IDEA: A Breakdown of Its Components, Amendments, and Referral Process

IDEA of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was initially signed into action in 1975 under President Gerald Ford, although under a different name, and has since become an essential educational stitch. The IDEA law is used to protect the rights of disabled children, their parents, and their education all over the United States. Nowadays, IDEA works in conjunction with the No Child Left Behind Act to ensure that each and every student in the US is provided for educationally and receives a free appropriate education in an environment that is least restrictive(a) . This paper will discuss IDEA in full including its early origins, the latest 2004 amendments, and guidelines for referring disabled children for special services under IDEA.

The original 1975 IDEA act consisted of six key components which will hence be summarized for full understanding. The first of the six components is entitled Entitlements and Allocations. This section provides states with a plan for implementing the program. More specifically, how many students will receive the help of the newly implemented program. As this is the first time the program is being put into action the government must decide on the best means of implementing the program. As such it was decided that each year the number of “handicapped children aged three to twenty-one, inclusive, in such State who are receiving special education and related services” increases ten percent each year starting in 1979 when the initial program was actually set in motion.

The second component of IDEA is Eligibility. First off, eligibility provides rules for schools to follow in the implementation of the IDEA program. It states specific dates in which school must have the program in effect for different age ranges. It goes on to specify that “all children residing In the State who are handicapped, regardless of the severity of their handicap, and who are in need of special education and related services are identified, located, and evaluated.” (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 1975). The State is additionally responsible for creating and implementing each student’s Individualized Education Program. A program specifically designed for each individual student as a guideline and informant on what educational methods, paths, and placement is best for the student. Moreover, each state is responsible for ensuring that each student is provided the best education possible in the most natural environment possible. That placement and help is nondiscriminatory and that communication is effective, even if it must be given in the student’s native language.

Applications, the third of the six components, is split into six different classes, the first class bearing the most subclasses within it. Part one describes the uses and applications of money within the program. It further details the applicable programs and uses of excess money which include: providing handicapped children with a free and appropriate education, establishing policies and procedures, establishing goals and opportunities, establishing appropriate timetables, facilities, personnel, services, and materials needed to meet the goals decided on. (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 1975).

Part two provides assurances that all money acquired and the materials paid for with it are all public property and used for the public’s benefit, the implementation of the program. It details the use of each kind of funding and demands that State and Local funding be used primarily, and that Federal funds are used only as a supplement to either of the previously mentioned types of funding. State and Local funds are also directed to be used only in their specific jurisdiction and not beyond.

Part three deals with the exchange of information. Under part three of Application, State educational agencies must provide information on each handicapped student and their educational achievements. Additionally, schools must provide records of their students and make them accessible to State educational agencies. This particular part of Application ties in with part four which addresses the documents related to the application of the program. Under this section, all documents relating to the application of the program must be made available to parents, guardians, and other members of the general public, as well as provide all evaluations and reports on the students. (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 1975).

Part five deals with the IEP each student is given during the implementation of the program. It states that local educational agencies are responsible for writing or revising each student’s IEP at the beginning of each school year. The following part six assures that educational agencies provide, to a satisfactory extend, each and every program, document, and service as detailed throughout the Applications section.

Procedures and Safeguards, a section which is rather blatantly named, provides safeguards for nearly everyone involved in the IDEA program, parents and students especially. It ensures that parents and/or guardians have the right to view the student’s records and obtain any independent opinions on the child. Additionally, the child is guaranteed rights even if the parent or guardian is unknown. (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 1975). Each and every change and/or refuse to change must be documented. Moreover, children are entitled between evaluation periods to remain in an unchanging educational environment. Meaning, schools cannot change the type of instruction or pull the program from a child without first going through the evaluation process.

Additionally, this section of the 1975 IDEA assures that parents are kept highly informed and able to express opinions and complaints concerning the program, its implementation, and any other aspects of the child’s education. Complaints filed are then given due process which “shall be conducted by the State educational agency or by the local educational agency or intermediate educational unit, as determined by State law or by the State educational agency. No hearing conducted by an employee of such agency or unit involved in the education or care of the child.” (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 1975). These hearings entitle each person to retain council and witnesses in order to make their case. Appeals are also possible and may be brought to the State court should the complaint necessitate such an action.
The fifth component is titled Evaluation, and deals not with the evaluation of the students entering the program, but with the implementation and impact of the program on its students in order to best grant each one a free and appropriate education. A commissioner is charged with this task and that of granting contracts, studies, investigations, and evaluations necessary in effective implementation. (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 1975).

Lastly, The Payments section discusses the Commissioner of Education’s prescription for regulations, general procedures, and monitoring procedures. Under Payments the Commissioner is required to submit any of these proposals in writing for review by the Committee on Education and Labor of the House, Representatives, and the committee on Labor and Public Welfare of the Senate. (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 1975). Additionally, changes in legislation by the Commissioner must be submitted and reviewed by both houses of congress. (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 1975).

Throughout the years, IDEA has undergone many changes, the most important of which will be discussed in this section. Each of these amendments provided a new or revamped piece of IDEA in order to better provide students with the best education possible.

As of 1986 a new part of IDEA came into action. Originally, the program didn’t have the ability to be implemented in all fifty states due to the fact that public schooling was limited to a certain age range. However, the new section, PL 99-457 grants infants, toddlers, and their families an individualized family service plan (Education Law, 1998), thus allowing early intervention in order to best provide an education to the child in question. As such, the amendment is known as the “Early Intervention Amendment.” (Education Law, 1998). This particular amendment caters specifically to children who are anticipated to have problems in school. The goal is to reduce the restrictions on potential student’s environments by better preparing them for school life and what to expect from the educational system.

The second of the amendments to be discussed was formerly known as the “Education of the Handicapped Act,” the amendment of 1990 is now called the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” This amendment broadens the spectrum of education available to students by exchanging the word “handicapped” with the word “disabled.” Additionally, the act serves to reaffirm formerly stated requirements such as the entitlement by all students to a free and appropriate education through the use of a individualized education program backed by related services and due process procedures. (Education Law, 1998). Moreover, the age range applicable for these services increased to a broad 3-21 years of age with a mandatory requirement of a specially written IEP (individualized education program) which will be expanded at the age of 16 to include plans for transition, employment, and or post secondary education. (Education Law, 1998). This 1990 amendment was meant to provide a greater variety of better services for learning under the act, as well as a wider range of students to ensure that each and every student needing the service was ensured to receive it.

The next amendment, a 1997 amendment came as a change to Public Law 105-17. This amendment gave parents the right to participate in making education decisions for their disabled children (Parent Rights in the Special Education Process Under IDEA PL 105-17, 2006), a right not previously granted to parents. This huge step for parents gave them the right to receive educational notifications concerning their student, give informed consent to education plans and programs, and participate in voluntary mediation should it be necessary. In essence, the new amendment took the education plan out of educational agencies hands, where it formerly rested in full, and dedicated a fair deal of responsibility granting rights to the parents of the disabled child. It encouraged a more informed and collaborative relationship between parents and educators.

The latest amendment was the HR-1350 Reauthorization came in 2004 with the resigning of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) and No Child Left Behind Act. The first goal of the reauthorization was to ensure that all disabled students were granted special education teachers equipped with the skills and training needed to provide the best education possible. Secondly, the law put into action for the first time tutoring programs for those disabled students who need extra help passing their required classes. This specific part of the act focused the attention on the students and their needs and away from educational agencies and their extensive legislation, piles of paperwork, and endless meetings. A solidifying factor to the previous goal is the third and final statement of the new HR-1350 Reauthorization. This final statements grants more “flexibility and control over the students’ education to parents and teachers and principals,” (President’s Remarks at the Signing of H.R. 1350, 2004) thus taking the control firmly out of the hands of those who guide from the sidelines and into the hands of those who know what the student needs most.
Now that a firm understanding of IDEA has been established, and you’ve been able to follow IDEA’s progress to its current state; it becomes important to inform oneself of the mandated process of referring students to the services that IDEA offers.

The obvious first step to referral under IDEA is identifying the child as having a disability needing attention. A teacher, school professional, or even a parents may ask that the student be evaluated. If a school professional is the source of referral, the parent must be contacted and given a verbal or written request for evaluation. However, before any assessments or proper evaluations can be given a pre-referral interventions must be put into action. These interventions, and there must be at least two, are “planned, systematic efforts by regular education staff to resolve apparent learning or behavioral problems.” (2.1 Assessment Determination, 2006). Once these pre-referral interventions have been planned and implemented and it has been found that the student is still in need of the referral, an assessment can be given.
The assessment is an evaluation of the child to determine what services the child will need and what sort of environment needs to be provided. Will the student be able to learn with his/her peers in a normal classroom? Or will they be required to be in a separate special education classroom? The evaluation is conducted by a multidisciplinary team that will then determine the child’s eligibility for the program. (IDEA: The Individual with Disabilities Education Act, N.d.). No single test is or can be used to determine the eligibility of a particular student for services. Instead, the multidisciplinary committee with choose a number of different assessments to give the student. Later evaluations will also include comparisons between the student’s performance and their peers performance (a Norm-referenced test), as well as evaluations of school and home behavior, among other things.

Two other tests used to assess a child’s needs and abilities are: standardized tests as they measure what the child has already learned, or can predict student potential. (Psy-Ed Corp, 2004). Additionally, Criterion-referenced tests provide a measure of skills and/or tasks that the child is able to complete. This test is essential in determining what kind of environment will be most beneficial to the student. Moreover, this test provides a measure of progress for the educators to follow through the student’s educational process.

Once the evaluation process has been completed the multidisciplinary team will sit down with the parents of the child in question and review the results. Together this team will determine whether child is eligible for the program’s services under IDEA. (A Guide to the Individualized Education Program, 2006). Should a child be determined eligible for IDEA services an IEP (Individualized Education Program) must be written. According to the Guide to the Individualized Education Program, the IEP team must meet to write this highly personalized document within 30 days of determining the child eligibility. (2006).

Since getting the IEP written is the next big step in the child’s referral process, the school must begin undertaking this task. As such, a meeting of participating staff and the child’s parents are contacted and proper arrangements are made such as the date and time of the meeting. Parents play a significant role in the implementation of the IEP. Although only specified and relevant staff are able to actually plan the IEP, it must be approved by the child’s parent before being put into action. Schools provide mediation for parents who are in disagreement to the findings and/or the IEP. Shortly after the IEP is approved by all, which ideally is shortly after being written, the child will begin receiving the appropriate and specified services. The child has then successfully made it through the referral process.

However, although the child has made it through the referral process there are still many responsibilities that the school and parents have in order to keep the child receiving the best education possible. Both the child’s progress and the child’s IEP must be reviewed annually. Necessary changes must be documented and approved in the same manner as the initial IEP. Yet this is still not the extent of the school responsibility toward the student. Further evaluations are needed at least every three years to determine the child continued eligibility under the program. If significant progress is made and is such progress that the child no longer needs IDEA services they can and will be taken off the program. Still, reevaluations are available and should the program need to be re-administered the process would be started again. Those children determined to still be eligible will continue on with the IEP and continue to be reevaluated annually.

The aforementioned has surely provided a greater deal of understanding regarding the IDEA program. A walk-through of the initial IDEA provided a basis for understanding while the amendments gave insight into the current IDEA program and related services. Additionally, the process of referral, although lengthy and fairly complex, provides a better understanding of how the program can aid students. Moreover, it provides teachers, parents, and even students with the information needed to fully understand the program and how to receive services under it. Surely with all this in mind IDEA has proven its worth in the educational process as both invaluable and highly helpful to disabled students and their educational needs. Programs for disabled students are available across the United States; it’s just a matter of being informed of the programs and what they have to offer. In this way, teachers and parents can best provide their students and children respectively with the programs and services they need to receive a comparable education to their non-disabled peers.

(a) Least Restrictive Environment according to the Least Restrictive Environment Coalition is defined as providing an education “to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are [1] educated with children who are not disabled, and [2] special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” (2001).


(2001). What is LRE?. Retrieved August 5, 2006, from Least Restrictive Environment Coalition Web site:

(2006). Parent Rights in the Special Education Process Under IDEA (PL 105-17). Retrieved July 14, 2006, from Help For Kid’s Speech Web site:

(2006, April 6). 2.1 Assessment Determination. Retrieved August 5, 2006, from 2.0 Referral Activities Web site:

(2004, December). President’s Remarks at the Signing of H.R. 1350. Retrieved July 14, 2006, from The White House Web site:

(2006, May 30). A Guide to the Individualized Education Program. Retrieved July 14, 2006, from U.S Department of Education Web site:

(1975, November 29). Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. Retrieved August 5, 2006, from Public Law 94-142 (S. 6); Nov. 29, 1975 Web site:

(1998, October 6). Education Law. Retrieved July 14, 2006, from Law and Exceptional Students Web site:

(N.d.). IDEA: The Individual with Disabilities Education Act. Retrieved August 6, 2006, from Educational Issues Web site:

Psy-Ed Corp, (2004). Evaluation: What Does It Mean For Your Child?. Retrieved August 6, 2006, from EP Education Web site:

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