Special Education without IQ: The Case of Iowa
General intellectual functioning and IQ tests are used nearly universally as part of eligibility criteria and comprehensive evaluations for students suspected of having disabilities in educational settings. Many critics have pointed out limitations and flaws in IQ testing and in decision making highly influenced by IQ test results. Is IQ essential to special education?
Clearly, the answer is “no.” The Iowa reform plan that has been adopted in most of the state led to the complete abandonment of IQ testing. The Iowa reform was motivated by a commitment to improve the educational outcomes in special and general education programs. Educational leaders in Iowa focused on using the existing resources in general and special education more effectively and forging a close relationship between what special educators did in eligibility determination with educational programming.
Since 1995 the official State of Iowa Department of Education Rules of Special Education have permitted the adoption of a problem-solving approach to special education eligibility and programming that eliminates categorical eligibility and programming in the high-incidence disabilities. Instead of using IQ-achievement discrepancies and IQ cutoff scores, the Iowa Problem Solving Rules emphasize functional assessment that is related directly to the interventions that children and youth need. Moreover, traditional categorical labels for high-incidence disabilities are no longer used, leading to a focus on what children need and their degree of need rather than application of formulae for determining eligibility.
In the Iowa alternative model, traditional standardized IQ and achievement tests are replaced by direct measures of academic, behavioral, and emotional regulation in natural classroom and school settings. Local norms are used as the primary basis to determine degree of need for interventions. But special education eligibility is not based solely on degree of need. In addition, a problem-solving process is implemented to determine if the patterns of learning, behavior, or emotional regulation can be altered significantly in general education.
Rigorous criteria are established to guide the problem-solving process that requires a minimum of several weeks to implement properly. For example, the presenting problem must be defined in terms of observable behavior, a goal must be established that represents significant improvement, a direct measure of the behavior is developed and implemented, an intervention plan tailored to the problem is developed using experi