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IDEA Results-Driven Accountability

need to know

This week, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled its new initiative for students with disabilities – Results Driven Accountability (RDA).  For the first time in IDEA’s near 40-year history, states were rated on how well they implement IDEA by combining compliance with student outcomes.  Here’s the scoop:

What’s different about this year’s state determination report?

Each year, every state is required to submit data to the U.S. Department of Education about how students with disabilities are faring in the classroom.  Previously, states were asked to submit only compliance indicators – i.e. meeting timelines for evaluations of students with disabilities, how much of a student’s day is spent in the general education classroom.

The revised RDA evaluation process, for the first time in history, also took into account educational outcomes – based on how students with disabilities fare on state assessments and the National Assessment for Educational Progress – to determine how states are meeting the goals and implementation of IDEA.  

 IDEA Funding Determinations crop    IDEA Compliance Only crop

What does this year’s data show?

Adding a new layer of student outcomes has shed a new light on how students with disabilities are faring in the educational system (see map above, left). Some 62% of states fell into the “needs assistance” category labeled yellow, while three states and the District of Columbia were in the category “needs intervention,” labeled red.  Fifteen states were categorized as “meets requirements,” labeled green.  By significant contrast, if student outcomes were not included and only compliance with IDEA was in the calculation, 40 states would have been declared “meets requirements,” labeled green (see map above, right).

It’s important to recognize that while this data is helpful at looking at broad trends, we mustn’t lose sight of the reality that there are areas of excellence and challenges in each state.  Click here to see the details for your state. 

What does this data mean for CEC members?

For a long time we have heard how “crossing t's and dotting i's” was a major concern when implementing IDEA as it focused too much on procedures and not enough on student learning.  We hope this combined approach will raise the importance of focusing on how to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.  In looking ahead, it is important to use this data wisely, recognizing the overall story it conveys.  That’s why CEC has been advocating for:

  • Better preparation of all special and general educators to address the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Building capacity of schools to deliver high-quality instruction that addresses student needs through professional development and evidence-based strategies.
  • Targeted technical assistance – not punitive measures – to address systemic challenges.
  • More funding and resources to support all education programs.  

What will happen to the states that need assistance or intervention?

Under IDEA, if a state “needs assistance” for two years in a row, the U.S. Department of Education must take actions – such as requiring the state to obtain technical assistance or identifying the state as a high-risk grant recipient.  If a state “needs intervention” for three years in a row, IDEA mandates that the Department take specific actions such as requiring a state to prepare a corrective action plan or ultimately withhold a portion of the state’s funding.  Coupled with the RDA announcement, the Department stated that it will fund a new $50 million technical assistance center to support states in improving results for students with disabilities. CEC supports the approach of providing states with targeted resources and technical assistance as a means for better serving students with disabilities, rather than any punitive approach.


What You Can Do

In response to this new initiative rating how well states implement IDEA by combining compliance with student outcomes, we asked some CEC leaders for their ideas on improving outcomes for students with disabilities and a resource recommendation or two for members who want to learn more.

Teachers working together

  Wendy Murwaski

“Effective co-teaching teams in schools are the key to improving instruction for students with disabilities. The five keys to leading co-teaching are: knowing what co-teaching is and when it is needed; recognizing  that co-teaching is a marriage and you are the matchmaker; scheduling is a priority; planning is critical; and monitoring success, giving feedback and ensuring evidenced based practice.”

Wendy Murawski, Executive

director & Eisner Endowed Chair of the Center for Teaching & Learning at California State University, Northridge; President of CEC's Teacher Education Division (TED)

Recommended reading: Leading the Co-Teaching Dance: Strategies to Improve Outcomes

Differentiation is key

  George Van Horn

“Four words: Universal design for learning (UDL).  UDL is a framework that's supports options and choice in all learning environments for all students.  In my school district, UDL is the framework for everything we do: teaching, learning, professional development and evaluations of teachers – and we’ve seen greater academic and social-emotional outcomes as a result.”

George Van Horn, Director of Special Education, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, Columbus, Ind.; CEC Board Member.

Recommended reading: from TEACHING Exceptional Children, “The Digital Media Writing Project: Connecting to the Common Core” (TEC 46-1) and “A Unit-Based Approach to Adaptations in Inclusive Classrooms” (TEC 46-2)National Center on UDL; CAST

Effective teachers

  Danielle Kovach

"Every student needs effective special and general education teachers who work collaboratively. Determining 'effectiveness' can be tricky, especially in our new teacher evaluation systems. What's most important to remember is that our evaluations should be tailored to our unique role as special educators to drive high-quality, relevant professional development."

Danielle Kovach, Special Education Teacher, Hopatcong, N.J.; 2014 Clarissa Hug Teacher of the Year.

Recommended reading: from TEACHING Exceptional Children, “Trends in Teacher Evaluation: What Every Special Education Teacher Should Know" (TEC 45-5)CEC's Toolkit on Special Education Teacher Evaluation

Connect and collaborate with colleagues


"Those of us who live in remote areas can find it challenging to have a professional learning community we can lean on and get ideas from.  But with technology it’s becoming easier to share instructional strategies, resources, tools and experiences – even for those of us who are in rural communities. It’s so important to have other special educators you can talk to – even if they’re thousands of miles away!"

Laural Jackson, Assistant Superintendent & Special Education/504 Director, Delta/Greely School District, Delta Junction, Alaska. 

Recommended reading: Anything in the CECommunity!

Intensive intervention

 Doug Fuchs  

“Many children with disabilities are performing poorly in school because of an absence of intensive instruction that’s delivered by instructional experts.  To improve outcomes we have to match services to needs. For this to happen, we have to work hard to ensure that many things are in place, including that there are indeed instructional experts.”

Doug Fuchs, Professor and Nicholas Hobbs Chair in Special Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University.

Recommended reading: TEC Special Edition on Intensive Intervention; National Center on Intensive Intervention

Preparation and practice

  James McLeskey

“ Well prepared teachers are key to ensuring that evidenced based instruction is delivered to every student resulting in improved outcomes. CEC’s ethics, and preparation and practice standards are an invaluable resource for faculty developing curriculum and seeking CEC national recognition, state policy makers evaluating state licensure requirements and special educators planning their professional growth.”

James McLeskey, Professor, School of Special Education; Director, Center on Disability Policy and Practice, University of Florida; Chair, CEC Professional Standards and Practice Committee.

Recommended reading: What Every Special Educator Must Know:  Ethics, Standards, and Guidelines

Managing behavior


“As a new teacher, it’s clear to me that we must focus just as much on managing student behavior as we do on academic needs. If we tackle this issue from a whole school approach that emphasizes positive reinforcement rather than a punitive, classroom by classroom endeavor, we can have better outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities. Without a school-wide positive behavior support plan, behavior issues can take center stage and students have a hard time learning.”

Benjamin White, Paraprofessional, Plymouth, Mich.; CEC Board Member

Recommended reading: Behavior Management Basics WebinarWhen Behavior Makes Learning HardThe Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

Teaching English Language Learners with disabilities

  Amy Eppolito

"We should look at students who begin school already knowing another language as having a head start over their peers.  If we nurture their bilingualism and capitalize on their linguistic, cultural, and experiential strengths – helping them feel “smart” rather than “at risk” – then we will be able to give them every opportunity to use academic language, engage in higher level thinking, and contribute in their classrooms and schools in meaningful ways.”

Amy Eppolito, Research Associate and Instructor, University of Colorado-Boulder BUENO Center for Multicultural Education

Recommended reading: English Language Learners: Differentiating Between Language Acquisition and Learning Disabilities