National Center for Learning Disabilities

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IDEA 2004 Final Regulations Update

Education Law - Disabilities And Education  The U.S. Department of Education approved new federal regulations governing the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education law as amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004).

These regulations are closely aligned with the federal IDEA law. NCLD has prepared a summary to highlight key provisions that impact how schools identify students with learning disabilities, develop and implement the Individualized Education Program (IEP) as well as planning for transition from high school to college and highly qualified teachers.

Highlights of Key Provisions and Important Changes

Additional Procedures for Identifying Children with Specific Learning Disabilities

Building on important changes made in IDEA 2004, the federal regulations provide extensive direction on the procedures for identifying children with learning disabilities. These changes from previous regulations seek to facilitate more appropriate and timely identification of children with LD so that they can benefit from research-based interventions that have been shown to produce better achievement and behavioral outcomes.

Key aspects of the new regulations include

  • Every state must develop specific criteria, in accordance with the requirements in the regulations, to determine whether a child has a specific learning disability and, as a result of that disability, requires special education. A state's criteria must not require the use of a "severe discrepancy” between intellectual ability and achievement as part of LD determination and must permit the use of a process based on a child's response to scientific, research-based interventions. All school districts within a state must use the criteria developed by the state.
  • Determination of the existence of a specific learning disability is done by the child's parents and a team of qualified professions
  • Determining factors now include:
    • Inadequate achievement measured against expectations for a child’s age or the grade-level standards set by the state
    • Insufficient progress when using a process based on response to scientific, research-based interventions (frequently referred to as RTI)
    • Evidence of a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, grade-level standards or intellectual development


As with previous requirements, it must be determined that the child's learning difficulties are not primarily the results of a visual, hearing or motor disability, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, cultural factors, environmental or economic disadvantage, limited English proficiency or lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math.

Parents must be provided with documentation of assessments of achievement used as part of an intervention process and must be notified of their right to request an evaluation under IDEA. The timeframe for completion of an evaluation may be extended by mutual written consent of the parents and the school.

In its Analysis of Comments and Changes that accompany the final regulations, the U.S. Department of Education has clarified that the evaluation of a child suspected of having LD must include a variety of assessment tools and strategies and cannot rely on any single procedure as the sole criterion for determining eligibility for special education. RTI is only one component of the process and determining why a child has not responded to research-based interventions requires a comprehensive evaluation.

Highly Qualified Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers who teach core academic subjects (as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act) to students with disabilities must be “highly qualified” in special education and also be highly qualified in the academic subjects they teach.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities had requested clarification regarding the instructional activities of special education teachers not teaching a core academic subject. Specifically, that such teachers could only provide consultative services to a highly qualified general education teacher and should restrict their services to areas that supplement not supplant the direct instruction provided by the highly qualified general education teacher in core academic subjects. This clarification was not provided in final regulation.

The final regulations clarify that teachers in private schools—including private school teachers hired or contracted by school districts to provide services to children placed in private schools by their parents—do not need to meet the “highly qualified” requirements of IDEA.

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