Over-identification Muddle: Who Minds the Store?

Who is minding the store?

Who is watching for misidentification?

In the typical school the answer is no one! No one fully understands and manages the range of programs and decisions IDEA 2004 covers from birth to 21 years. Regrettably, special education viewed historically and on the grand scale of American schools is in its infancy. So is IDEA. “A camel is a horse built by a committee,” the saying goes.

The medical models of early intervention (Part C) give way to the developmental models of early childhood education. The developmental models give way to models of academic learning (Part B). The categories of evaluation and placement shift, change and overlap with little or no linkage among them. Specialists, teachers and administrators maintain a pigeon-hole system and can’t see relationships, nor talk about them.

Special education directors are pinned down by compliance issues set up by state auditors. This can impair the ability to conceptualize the broad issues and related areas of reform. Upward leadership to change state and federal requirements is a super challenge and doesn’t increase salary.

Downward changes such as those of 2004 are filtered and reworked at the state level. For example, RTI in special education grew out of the need to cut down on over-identification, especially of SLD placements. Now RTI is being rolled out programmatically¬†as only an opportunity to improve services to children and an opportunity for specialists to “get involved.” It is being disassociated from its IDEA roots as Senators Rudd and Kennedy addressed it in 2003, to reduce the numbers of children improperly placed in special education at the expense of their school rights (ConnSense).

The potential solutions to over-identification are cheap, simple and largely conceptual. Exotic RTI-like programs are not needed. Labels must be defined accurately and placement criteria applied consistently. Staff realignments to support early intervention can take place without new funding. Internal reviews of all school cases can monitor for occasional placement errors. IEP meetings need to focus on the big picture: “How is this child doing and where is his or her educational program heading?” States should cut down on the use of paperwork checklists to define and dictate indirectly what it means to be a competent special educator. Special education directors need to inspire growth and reform. States in the role of translators of IDEA initiatives should communicate clearly, accurately and often, using their web sites to coordinate improvements rather than to document compliance.

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