The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that governs any special education service or policy for children ages 3 to graduation (or until age 21 if the student remains in high school until then). Each IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is developed by an “educational team” for that specific child and stipulates how that child’s education will be individualized in order for the child to learn. The IDEA is stylized so the child has the best opportunity to succeed. The child may be allowed “modifications” in the curriculum (such as with delivery and testing of the curriculum), and in the grading process in order to achieve some success in school. Therefore, a child with an IEP may make an A in a course if he/she completes 70% of coursework rather than 100%, or the child may be allowed the modification of having one correct answer and one incorrect answer from which to choose on a test rather than one correct answer and three incorrect answers viewed by the rest of the class.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects individuals from discrimination based on their disabilities. This Act governs any public school or college that accepts any type of federal financial assistance, but the Act itself provides no funding for the schools or colleges affected by its mandates. The seven-part Act is divided into Sections A-G. Subpart D applies to K-12 schools and Subpart E applies to postsecondary institutions. Subpart E mandates that qualified postsecondary students with disabilities be offered the opportunity to complete a degree with all other, non-disabled students.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a federal civil rights law structured to provide equal opportunities for all people with disabilities. The ADA requires equal access and protects individuals from discrimination based on their disabilities. The ADA trumps all other acts regarding students in the postsecondary world.
In High School, a student often has a “504 plan” that suffices for services. Most of the time, the high school does not test the student who falls under 504, but offers “modifications” that help the student succeed. The special education student, in contrast, must be regularly tested and/or reevaluated in order to remain in the special education program. The problem of adequate and comprehensive documentation comes into play when the “504” student goes to college. In most cases, the screening instruments often used for developing a “504” plan are insufficient as documentation for college accommodations. The student goes from an environment that is structured to “ensure student success” to one that is designed to “allow equal access.” The success of the student is up to the student in the college setting. A college must ensure access, not success.
|What is the intent of the law?||Students are entitled to a free appropriate public education; qualified persons with a disability cannot be discriminated against||To ensure that qualified persons with a disability will not be discriminated against and will have access—not entitlement—to academic programs and services|
|Who is covered?||Infants through high-school graduates||All otherwise qualified individuals who meet entry criteria and who can document the existence of a disability as defined by the ADA and who have needs related to access|
|Central idea||Education is a right. Fundamental alterations of programs and services are required.||Education is an opportunity. Students must meet admissions criteria and be otherwise qualified. Students must also follow/meet other criteria of the institution such as health, character, technical standards, conduct code and course objectives. No fundamental alterations of programs and curricula are required.|
|Identification||Schools responsible for identifying students||Students must self-identify|
|Documentation||Schools responsible for testing students||Students must arrange for and pay for their own testing|
|Services||Schools responsible for any needed services. School must provide whatever services will help the student succeed in class. If necessary, schools must provide individualized tutoring.||Students must seek out services. Students allowed only certain accommodations in college classrooms. Students must seek out tutoring, if needed, and must pay for it if the college does not provide tutoring for non-disabled students. Individualized instruction is not likely/guaranteed.|
|Communication||Schools must communicate with parents at regular intervals about the student’s progress||College is not permitted to contact parents without student’s permission|
|Accommodation arrangements||School must develop a formal plan and it is the school’s responsibility to track student growth||Student must request and be eligible for accommodations EACH semester and the student is responsible for much of the accommodation process|
|Accommodation differences||Typical accommodations may include: reduced assignments (requiring students to submit less work than others), extended time on assignments, grading changes (counting daily work equal with semester tests), test format changes, repeated chances to make a passing grade||No reduced assignments, extended time on assignments is usually at the discretion of the professor, no grading changes, no test format changes other than providing equal access, no extra attempts at tests; in other words, accommodations must be reasonable and must not compromise the rigor and/or academic integrity of the class|