ASHA surveys show that paperwork is consistently a top concern for school-based members. ASHA lobbied aggressively Congress to reduce the paperwork burden in the reauthorization of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for related services providers including audiologists and speech-language pathologists (SLPs). Two major changes related to paperwork requirements—paperwork reduction and modifications to individualized education programs (IEPs)—are included in IDEA.
Under IDEA, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education may grant waivers of statutory or regulatory requirements under Part B, other than civil rights requirements, for up to 15 states and a maximum of four years, based on state proposals to reduce excessive paperwork and non-instructional time burdens that do not assist in improving educational and functional results for children with disabilities. This waiver program is not intended to affect the right of a child with a disability to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) or permit a state or local education agency (LEA) to waive specified procedural safeguards. In addition to any federal requirement, the state's waiver application shall include a list of any state-level requirements “that the state proposes to waive or change, in whole or part, to carry out a waiver.”
The bill also requires the Secretary of Education to “publish and disseminate” models of the following:
Reference: P.L.108-446, Title I, Part A, Section 609, and Part B, Section 617, paragraph (e)
The law provides that nothing in IDEA regarding IEPs shall be construed to require additional information in an IEP beyond what is explicitly required. This is an attempt by Congress to clearly delineate what is an explicit federal requirement apart from additional IEP requirements that states and local school districts may add. The desired outcome is a shorter IEP.
Under the provisions, LEAs are encouraged to consolidate IEP meetings and reevaluation meetings. Options are given for parents and LEAs to agree to participate in IEP team and placement meetings via means such as video conferences and conference calls. Another option for parents and LEAs is that they may amend or modify the child's current IEP without having to convene an IEP meeting by working through a responsible teacher or service provider.
In addition, IDEA states that members of the IEP team may be excused from an IEP meeting: (1) if no modifications are being made to that member's area of curriculum or service; or (2) when a relevant modification is made if the member provides input prior to the meeting. The parent and the LEA must agree to the members being excused.
IDEA allows the Secretary of Education to accept proposals from 15 states to, “allow parents and [LEAs] the…option of developing a comprehensive multi-year IEP, not to exceed 3 years, that is designed to coincide with the natural transition points for the child.” Each state that submits a proposal for multi-year IEPs must include assurances that the development of a multi-year IEP is optional for parents and that the parent is required to provide informed consent before an IEP is developed. Further, each state application must include the following elements as part of the multi-year IEP proposal:
The law establishes a definition for natural transition points to mean, “those periods that are close in time to the transition of a child with a disability from preschool to elementary grades, from elementary grades to middle or junior high school grades, from middle or junior high school grades to secondary school grades, and from secondary school grades to post-secondary activities, but in no case a period longer than 3 years.”
In addition, IDEA eliminates mandatory benchmarks and short-term objectives for children with disabilities, except for those children who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards. Quarterly reports will serve as periodic progress reports.
Reference: P.L.108-446, Title I, Part B, Section 614, paragraph (d)
The reduction of paperwork, the model forms, and the modifications to IEPs should result in less of a burden to school-based members in terms of time consuming administrative tasks and meeting time. The intent is for a decrease in noninstructional tasks that do not directly benefit the child's performance. This should free up staff time for instructional tasks and related activities that improve the student's educational and functional performance.
Many lengthy IEPs are the result of state and local requirements that have been added to federal requirements. The model IEPs and IEP waivers should help members clarify those components that must be preserved due to federal mandates and those resulting from state or local policies or practice that may be modified or eliminated through advocacy efforts.
The law fails to indicate whether the excused IEP team member should be informed of the excusal or if they can accept or reject the excusal. ASHA members can expect the U.S. Department of Education to clarify this during the regulatory process. Although this change in legislation may assist in freeing up time for school-based members, it may also excuse audiologists and SLPs from participating in a meeting where they could provide valuable insight, especially in cases where language related curriculum goals are being addressed.
While IDEA does not require short-term objectives for all children as part of the IEP, the SLP should continue to identify short term-goals to monitor progress towards long-term goals. As we strive towards improved evidence-based practice in our profession, we need to maintain documentation of treatment effectiveness.
ASHA members can work directly with their State Departments of Education or through their state speech-language-hearing associations to encourage their Departments of Education to apply for the paperwork reduction waiver or the IEP waiver. Member input is important to guide states in developing reasonable and effective paperwork changes that will benefit members as well as children with speech-language disorders and their families.