PA Solution

In 2002, Dr. Joseph F. Kovaleski provided Congress with testimony based on his administrative experience in Pennsylvania. He sized up the over-identification problem this way:

” The issue that we are addressing today, the reform of the special education referral and identification process, has been a controversial and important one since I entered the field of special education 25 years ago. We have long understood that too many students have been over-identified as having learning disabilities. We have seen limited funds for special education overwhelmed by too many students in the system. As students have been found eligible for special education, we have seen general education come to an understanding that it has little responsibility for students with even transient academic and behavior problems. Many teachers have come to believe that any student with any difficulty may have hidden disabilities that prevent them from succeeding in the regular classroom.”

Dr. Kovaleski made recommendations for reform:

1. “Referrals for special education eligibility screening can be greatly reduced by using an effective prereferral intervention model.” Prereferral intervention programs should be developed within general education.

2. “The testing process itself, as it is typically implemented, leads to over-identification.” The “refer-test-place” practice leads to different kinds of placement errors.

3. “The best way to identify the right students as eligible for special education is by appraising their response to effective instruction… There is now a 20-year history of research and practice in methods that would allow schools to identify students as eligible for special education through an evaluation of their response to effective instruction.”

4. “There needs to be a fully funded early literacy program that provides intensive intervention for students who are at risk for not learning to read by the third grade.” Preschool intervention programs, making use of effective literacy programs, can reduce the number of pupils later identified as learning disabled.

5. “There needs to be coordination at the federal, state, and local levels among federal programs that address overlapping issues such as the development of literacy.” Mixed school funding sources fragment programs, and various specialists work together in an uncoordinated manner, negating the effects of early programs.

6. “Teachers, administrators, and related services personnel address students’ needs best when they work together in prereferral teams like instructional support teams…As schools endeavor to provide services so that all children receive effective educational programs, coordination through a core team, like an instructional support team, is extremely beneficial.”

7. “The screening and early identification process needs to address students’ emotional and behavioral needs as well as their academic needs….We will need to provide teachers and other school staff with the necessary professional development to address these behaviors through positive behavioral supports.”

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