Learning Disabilities - TeachersAndFamilies

New Directions in
Identifying Learning Disabilities

From the National Association
of School Psychologists


New language in IDEA.

In reauthorizing IDEA, Congress approved modification in the language regarding the identification of Learning Disabilities that would prevent states from requiring schools to use a discrepancy approach. The previous version of federal special education law did not require schools to use tests to establish a discrepancy between ability and achievement to determine LD, but most state rules have included such a requirement.

The new law prevents such mandates. It will allow districts to use alternative procedures that more heavily consider how a student responds to well-designed instructional modifications carried out in general education. Comprehensive assessment is still required under IDEA. This means that schools still need to carefully examine all relevant aspects of a student’s performance and history before concluding that a disability does or does not exist. Schools also still need to rule out factors such as poor health, limited experiences, or limited English. But instead of measuring intellectual ability as a means of determining “expected achievement,” schools will be able adopt a model that considers “response to instruction” and then measure student progress in relation to expected progress.

Response to Instruction (or Response to Intervention)—also known as RTI-- is a controversial model in education today. There are many successful approaches to modifying teaching in order to improve student learning, all in the regular education classroom. In fact legislation such as No Child Left Behind requires schools to use “evidence based” instructional strategies to support children with difficulties acquiring basic skills. Response to Instruction models not only implement scientifically based teaching strategies but also include methods to frequently measure how well a student benefits form those strategies. In districts where RTI models have been implemented, research studies have typically shown significant student progress and often a reduction in special education referrals and placements.

However, controversy remains because there is no uniform standard of adequate progress in response to changes in instruction. How much progress is enough? How much progress should be expected? How long should an intervention strategy be in place before considering if it is successful? What should be the criteria for determining that a student has failed to respond sufficiently and should therefore be considered for special education services? Because there is such variability in how schools have used this process, there has been a great deal of concern about incorporating the model into federal and state laws governing special education. Many called for an experimental period, funding large-scale studies of this model, putting consistent procedures in place, and examining the results before making RTI part of IDEA.

Now that Congress has adopted these provisions as part of IDEA, the next step will be for the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to develop regulations that help put the law into practice. The law itself is pretty general. The specific requirements will be developed as part of the new regulations. Researchers, educators, advocates, and parents will have many opportunities to give their ideas and express their concerns so that OSEP can develop the best possible regulations.

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Parenting Start

This article, by Andrea Canter, PhD, NCSP, is in part based on the handout " Learning Disabilities: A Primer for Parents About Identification" by Samuel O. Ortiz, PhD, which was published in Helping Children at Home and School II: Handouts for Families and Educators (NASP, 2004) and is provided by the National Association of School Psychologists.
Copyright © 2002 by The Source for Learning, Inc. • All rights reserved.
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