New and Noteworthy IDEA 2004 Updates

by Tina Spencer, M.S., and Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

On December 3, 2004, the revised Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) was signed into law. All provisions of this law became effective July 1, 2005. Several changes that may be of interest to parents are outlined below. Due to the complexity of this legislation, readers are referred to the Guidance Document on the Implementation of IDEA 2004-Part B Requirements.  The following highlights have been taken from this document.

  • School divisions cannot require parents to obtain a prescription for a controlled substance (i.e., medication) as a condition of their child attending school, being evaluated, or receiving services under IDEA.

  • A teacher or specialist may screen a student for the purposes of determining appropriate instructional strategies for curriculum implementation. This type of screening is not considered an evaluation for eligibility for special education and related services.

  • School divisions are no longer required by the state to use the difference between achievement and intellectual ability when determining whether a student has a learning disability. School divisions may choose to consider how a student responds to a research-based intervention as a part of the evaluation process.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) Content
  • General: The IEP team must now consider the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the student when writing the IEP.

  • Present Level of Performance: The present level of performance must include a statement of academic achievement and functional performance.

  • Goals: IEPs must include academic and functional goals in the statement of measurable annual goals.

  • Benchmarks and Objectives: Benchmarks or short-term objectives are only required for IEPs of students with disabilities taking alternate assessments aligned with alternate achievement standards. However, it is permissible to include benchmarks or short-term objectives in the IEPs of other students with disabilities.

  • Progress Reports: IEPs must now include a statement of how the student's progress toward annual goals will be measured. It must also state when the periodic reports will be provided.

  • Essential Components: This provision states that the IEP team need not include more than what is explicitly provided for in the new law. Additionally, IEP team members no longer have to restate a provision that is found in another section of the student's IEP.

  • Accommodations/Assessment: In this provision, the IEP team must include a statement of appropriate individual accommodations a student needs to be able to participate in state and districtwide assessments (i.e., Standards of Learning Assessments). The IEP team must state why a particular alternate assessment is appropriate for a student if that student cannot participate in the regular state and districtwide assessments.

For further information regarding IDEA 2004, visit the Council for Exceptional Children's website at and the Virginia Department of Education website at

Date: November/December  2005