IDEA Implications for Testing and Assessment

After months of controversy and negotiations between staff of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee and general education, special education, and re-lated services providers, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed unanimously in the House June 10. However, plans to bring IDEA to the Senate floor in July fell apart when sev-eral contentious issues could not be re-solved by members and interested par-ties. It' s now uncertain whether IDEA will be reauthorized during this congress.

Despite APA's attempts to convince House staff of the necessity of technically sound instruments for all tests used to determine whether a child has a disability, the House passed the bill requiring only that standardized tests be validated for the specific purpose for which they are used and that they are administered by qualified personnel in accordance with instructions provided by the test developer. APA had recommended language requiring that all tests be valid and reliable for all purposes for which they were developed and that they be consistent with relevant, nationally recognized professional and technical standards for assessments. APA's position is shared by the American Educational Research Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education, its codevelopers of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, which applies to all tests.

APA was more successful in influencing the Senate draft version, which incorporated the requirement that tests and other evaluation materials be consistent with generally accepted professional standards. However, Senate staff resisted applying psychometric concepts of validity and reliability to all tests, not just to standardized tests.

With the help of an amendment offered by Rep. Thomas Sawyer (D-OH), APA successfully defined evaluation in the bill to include behavioral and cognitive measures. Specifically, the bill states that a local educational agency (LEA) should use technically sound instruments that can assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors. This language encourages the assessor to conduct a comprehensive evaluation in order to examine the whole child and all factors that could influence success in the classroom.

For now, the general education, special education, and related services providers who have invested so much energy hammering out this language with committee staff must wait to find out whether IDEA will reach the Senate floor. With budget appropriations taking precedence over all other pieces of legislation at the end of this session, it is possible that the reauthorization of IDEA may die in the Senate.

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