ably supported by universal screening and early high-quality interventions prior to referral. Improving the interventions before considering special education placement is essential to implementing more effective general and special education programs.
Eligibility decisions are markedly influenced by legal requirements, including conceptual definitions for disabilities (see Appendix 6-B) and classification criteria that are determined by the states. The conceptual definitions and classification criteria have an enormous impact on how professionals and the public think about disabilities; they determine rather directly the kind of assessment that is conducted during the full and individual evaluation, a mandated part of eligibility determination. If conceptual definitions and classification criteria use such concepts as general intellectual functioning or intellectual ability, it is nearly impossible to avoid the use of individually administered IQ tests and other measures of internal child traits or states. As noted previously, the information from measures of internal child traits have little application to interventions, are costly, and are objectionable to many constituencies.
Design alternatives that address some of the problems with the current special education system exist and have been implemented successfully (Ikeda et al., 1996; Reschly et al., 1999). Box 8-6 provides a brief description of the alternative approach used in the State of Iowa. Changes in the design and organization of the special education delivery system are consistent with current legal requirements, but they utilize quite different conceptions of disabilities and apply different assessment methods. The overall purpose of these systems is to improve outcomes through application of direct assessment methods and effective instruction and behavior change principles in a problem-solving framework.
To be effective, the problem-solving approach for eligibility determination and the design of interventions in special education must be pervasive in the system, governing the behavior of professionals and others from the first indication of problems with learning or behavior through early intervention, prereferral interventions, eligibility determination, IEP development, annual review of progress, and triennial consideration of eligibility and programming.
There are several problem-solving models, all requiring systematic problem solving with data collection is essential (Upah and Tilly, 2002; Tilly et al., 1999). Problem solving should be a consistent set of activities involving