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IDEA 2004 Close Up: Evaluation and Eligibility for Specific Learning Disabilities

Page 3 of 4

By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

Step 3: Determination of Appropriate Instruction

Prior to a child's being suspected of having an SLD, the school or district must provide documentation that proves that the student has been provided appropriate instruction by qualified personnel. Students whose lack of achievement can be attributed to a lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math should not be determined to have an SLD. Such students should be provided with appropriate instruction in general education as well as scientific, research-based interventions. Appropriate instruction in reading must include the essential components of reading instruction* defined in the No Child Left Behind Act. These essential components include explicit and systematic instruction in:

  • phonemic awareness,
  • phonics,
  • vocabulary development,
  • reading fluency, including oral reading skills, and
  • reading comprehension strategies.

*Source: Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 § 1208(3)

The school or district should also provide data-based documentation of frequent assessments of the student's progress, to measure effectiveness of that instruction. In addition, that documentation should be provided to the student's parents in a timely manner. A student's progress should be documented by using an objective and systemic process administered at reasonable intervals. In other words, information such as teacher reports and teacher-made tests, while helpful, are not adequate for this determination. Data should be used to determine the effectiveness of a particular instructional strategy or program and should be provided to parents in order to keep them informed of their child's progress, so that they can support instruction and learning at home.

If the group charged with determining whether a student has an SLD decides that this documentation is not adequate, a decision may be made to delay making a final determination and continue to collect additional information about the student. In order to extend the time by which the evaluation will be completed, parents must consent to the time extension. The evaluation process must be completed within 60 calendar days from their consent, unless their state has a different requirement.

Step 4: Determination of Influence of Other Factors

Students whose lack of achievement (as determined in Step 1) can be attributed primarily to one of the following factors should not be determined to have an SLD.

  • visual, hearing, or motor disability
  • mental retardation
  • emotional disturbance
  • cultural factors
  • environmental or economic disadvantage
  • limited English proficiency

Such students can be served in other disability categories of IDEA or through programs for at-risk or disadvantaged students, such as Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Comments from readers

"Part of the problem of this definition is that when measuring children for developmental delays or intervention requirements, it does not take into account the choice of the dominant caretaker or parent to preference non-English rather than English - which necessarily produces impairment in oral expression or language understanding. Forcing the system to make up for parental negligence in school preparation by failing to teach basic language skills in English misuses the educational law to become guarantor of parental failure to plan and carry out necessary skills a child will need in English speaking schools."
"i am a mother of a 4 year old that has special needs in learning , i am looking to move to Fernandina beach , FL but i am not sure if my son would have the same education as the one he has here ...can someone help me !?"
"You have described the changes in the federal definition of SLD clearly and I would like to link your information on my new website Is that okay with you?"
"Excellent, succinct summary, making a usable, easy to follow set of guidelines, spelling out exceptions and using appropriate emphases - especially with regards to the role and place of parents in the team"