By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute
Debate over the method used to identify students as learning disabled (LD) and in need of special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has gained considerable momentum during the last several years. A barrage of criticism has been directed at the "ability-achievement discrepancy" method of LD identification, which requires that students show a severe discrepancy between their IQ and academic achievement, through the use of standardized testing. This has resulted in intense interest in, and urgency for, finding alternative methods which could be both more timely and more reliable.
At the forefront of options being reviewed and researched is a process called "response-to-intervention" or RTI. A major study of RTI as an alternative method for LD identification is a significant portion of the work currently being conducted by the
Several issues have generated the debate about how to identify LD. First, there's been an alarming increase in the numbers of students served in the LD category of IDEA. Of the 6 million children in special education, half of those are identified as having a "specific learning disability," and the number has grown more than 300 percent since 1976. Policy makers have consistently expressed concern about the substantial number of students being served as LD under IDEA (now roughly 6 percent of all school-age children).
Second, a growing body of research suggests that the "ability-achievement discrepancy" method of identifying students as eligible for special education services requires students to fail or fall behind for a substantial period of time before they are eligible for help. This requirement for an "accumulation of failure" acts as a barrier to early help. Studies published by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also indicate that the further behind a student falls, the more intensive the services must be to help close the achievement gap.
There's also sound evidence, in a study published by the National Research Council in 2002, that much of the testing used in this process is culturally biased, resulting in either too few or too many minority students being placed in certain categories of special education.
The ability-achievement discrepancy method dates back to 1977. When the U.S. Department of Education crafted the regulations to implement the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142), now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it needed to provide a process and criteria for identifying students in the category of "specific learning disability."
The process needed to differentiate between students who have low achievement because of low ability (as measured by IQ testing), and students whose low achievement is "unexpected" (those with normal or above normal ability, or IQ), and cannot be explained by other factors such as limited English proficiency.
To accomplish this, a requirement for the existence of a "severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability" in one or more of seven domains of academic functioning was included in the final IDEA regulations.
To determine the existence of a "severe discrepancy," states generally require the administration of standardized ability (IQ) tests and academic achievement tests, followed by a comparison of the standard scores of the tests. If this comparison shows that the student's "achievement" is well below his or her "ability'" in at least one area (such as reading), then the student can be found eligible to receive special education services under the category of "specific learning disability."
Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you more
insights to help you help your child succeed.
Thank you! You will begin to receive newsletters from us shortly.
Great work! Only one more step. Now we just need you to verify your email address. Please click on the link in the email we just sent you to complete your registration.
Great work! Only one more step. Now we just need you to verify your email address. Please click on the link in the email we just sent you to submit your review.
Please click on the link in the verification email we just sent you to complete your change of email address.
Whoops! It looks like we still need to verify your email. To do so, please click on the link in the email we sent you. Can't find the e-mail? Click the button below and we'll send you a new one.
Thanks for registering. Welcome to GreatSchools, the largest online community committed to improving educational outcomes through parental involvement.
Thanks for verifying your updated email address.
Oops! You haven't verified your email address yet. To do so, please click on the link in the email we sent you. Can't find the email? Click the button below to receive a new one.
Oops! That email verification link has expired. Please click the button below to receive a new one.
Create an account to submit your answers.
Sign in with an existing GreatSchools account or using Facebook:
Your review has been posted to GreatSchools.
Share with friends! Post your opinion of on Facebook.
Welcome to GreatSchools!
For principals and school officials, we offer a special Enhanced School Profile (ESP) which allows you to update and add information about your school, as well as respond to reviews. If you are a school official, click Continue to start.
Please note that it can take up to 48 hours for your comment to be posted to our site. While you're here, we'd like to invite you to fill out a survey on your school's programs, activities, and extracurriculars. It only takes a few minutes and will help parents get a full picture of your school.
Get started now! You have successfully registered and can now start updating your Official School Profile. The information you provide is extremely valuable in helping parents and students learn more about your school, so thanks for taking the time!
Thank you for registering as a school leader. We just need to verify your email address. We've sent you an email - please click on the link in that message to get started editing your school's information!
Thanks! We just sent you an email – please click on the link in the email to post your answers.
Get timely updates for , including performance data and recently posted user reviews.