Since its inception in 1975, IDEA has included provisions for collecting information on the implementation and impact of the law and reporting findings annually to the U.S. Congress. In subsequent reauthorizations of IDEA, Congress added provisions to conduct national assessments to evaluate service implementation and outcomes for children. For example, in response to the call for a National Assessment in the 1997 reauthorization, the U.S. Department of Education funded a portfolio of special studies including four longitudinal child-based studies2 on specific age groups and three topical studies addressing key issues in special education.3
The 2004 reauthorization of IDEA also called for a National Assessment to measure the implementation progress of IDEA and the relative effectiveness of the law in achieving its purpose (Section 664(b)). The 2004 National Assessment was intended to build on work conducted under the National Assessment required by IDEA 1997 and to conduct new studies as appropriate. In response, the National Center for Education Evaluation at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) initiated a design study advised by practitioners, researchers, and evaluation experts to develop research questions and approaches to address the goals for the 2004 National Assessment (Fiore et al. 2007). The design study translated the topics identified in the law into specific research questions. Information generated from answering the research questions through this National Assessment was intended to help federal policymakers and state and local administrators implement the law more effectively and to help federal policymakers shape future legislation regarding infants, toddlers, preschoolers, children, and youth with disabilities.
By December 2009, IES initiated six studies as part of the 2004 National Assessment: (1) analyses of extant data to provide descriptive information on the patterns in the identification of and outcomes for children with disabilities as background for subsequent studies on program implementation and effectiveness of services, (2) a study on state and district implementation of policies and practices for children with disabilities, (3) an evaluation study of the Personnel Development Program, (4) an evaluation of Response to Intervention strategies in elementary reading, (5) a study of school improvement status as it relates to students with disabilities, and (6) an evaluation of the Technical Assistance and Dissemination Program. SRI International was charged with conducting the first study, and findings from it are the subject of this report.