I am pleased to report that NJPA has taken the next step toward supporting a proposal to amend the criteria currently used to determine eligibility for special education services. In a letter to the commissioner of education, the NJPA president, Dr. Kenneth Freundlich, states,”NJPA is expressing its unwavering support for the state of New Jersey to include a third option approach, known as the Pattern of Strength and Weakness (PSW) model, as a criterion to determine eligibility for special education services.” The first step was NJPA’s endorsement of my position paper describing the rationale for the proposed change.
This proposal, based on the best science and practice standards available, observes, “The rationale for this proposed change in the special education regulations is that a large body of research has shown that the current approaches used (i.e., ability-achievement discrepancy [AAD] or response to intervention [RTI] models) in New Jersey have significant inadequacies with determining the presence of a specific learning disability (SLD).”
Furthermore, ” Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 and the IDEA regulations issued in 2006 revised the requirements for identifying students under the category of specific learning disabilities (SLD). As per the Federal law, it clearly allows for the option of using “…other alternative research-based procedures for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability as defined in §300.8 (c)(10); (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. §1414 (b)(6)(A).”
The letter goes on to support a change to the code to include the Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses (PSW) model to determine eligibility. The PSW approach posits that academic subjects are byproducts of specific cognitive abilities needed to perform successfully. When students with average ability exhibit weaknesses in these domains, they will be unable to perform to their ability. In other words, there will be unexpected underachievement in the context of average skills. Thus, unlike the current criteria used to determine eligibility, the PSW model informs us of “why” students perform as they do. Consequently, this information can be used to generate classroom strategies and interventions to address the specific weaknesses, ending the present disconnect between assessment and classroom application. The PSW approach truly underlines the term “individualized” in Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).
NJPA joins the New Jersey Association of School Psychologists in supporting the call for a change in the special education code. I have requested that other professional organizations in the state consider endorsing the proposed changes.
I will keep you informed as we try attempt to move this forward to better serve the children and families in New Jersey.