It is clear that the original framers of Education of All Handicapped Act (1975) were concerned with making sure that special education programs were effective. The various procedural requirements, such as due process, IEP development, full and individual evaluation, annual review, and triennial reevaluation, were all designed to ensure that the services would be effective. The framers established “process or procedural” protections to ensure accountability.
Although a great deal has been accomplished with the procedural requirements, accountability for results was not achieved. IDEA (1997, 1999) placed more emphasis on accountability and moved special education for students with disabilities into the mainstream of educational reform. The system now demands accountability without adjustments in the classification practices and assessment requirements to make accountability feasible.
Research on the effectiveness of special education overwhelming supports changes away from IQ-based disability determination to functional assessment and problem-solving interventions. One aspect of problem solving is particularly important: formative evaluation. Formative evaluation methods involve establishing goals, gathering baseline data to reflect current performance, instruction or behavioral interventions, with monitoring of progress frequently (daily, twice per week), and with changes made in interventions depending on the ongoing results of that intervention. If goals are met, typically the goal is raised to ensure that the student always has a challenging but achievable goal to guide and motivate efforts. If goals are not met, instructional and behavior change interventions are analyzed further and changed to foster better outcomes and efforts to improve instruction are implemented (Fuchs and Fuchs, 1986; Kavale and Forness, 1999). Interventions guided by this kind of problem solving are more effective by 0.75 to 1.0 SD over typical special education interventions.
It is far more difficult to make a case for early identification and intervention for gifted and talented students, because no research base currently provides guidance in this regard. There has been an absence of public support for gifted programs for the very young, resulting in few opportunities to conduct research on program features that promote achievement at the highest end of the distribution. This is perhaps not surprising given the well-known problems of reliability of traditional instruments for assessing intellectual function in young children. “Readiness tests” used as screening instruments for intellectual competence and traditional tests of intelligence and aptitude have been soundly criticized for their inappropriateness for