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Disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes (2)

The legal answer to your question is "discrepant from ability." But no matter how you try to slice it, the more you struggle in quick sand, the deeper I think you're doing to dig yourself in.

If Johnny has been appropriately assessed and appropriately instructed, and he is discrepant from peers in the ability to listen, think, listen, reading, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, it would seem to me fair to assume without doing additional assessments that he has a disorder in a basic psychological process involved in understanding or using language. (The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.)

Basic psychological processes have never been defined within the federal regulations or by OSEP. But if a basic psychological processing deficit (however you define it) is to be diagnostically significant, then (this is just me) I think you ought to be looking at the research linking said deficits to the problem at hand -- not simply concluding that because Johnny has a pattern of strengths and weaknesses (could that actually be normal?) that he's LD, irrespective of whether that pattern has been found to mark children, say, with dyslexia, or not. Otherwise, it's just another pointless intellectual exercise, designed to fill in a state form with psychobabble that sounds great but tells us nothing useful about the student.

You would think that since a deficit in a basic psychological process is so central to the federal definition at 300.7 that it would have been included in the operational definition at 300.541. It was not. You would think that since there has been such widespread confusion over the issue, that OSEP would issued a definitive policy statement. They have not. I only found one recent letter from OSEP on the Internet since the 1999 regulations, a Letter to Baumtrog in 2000.

In summarizing the requirements for identifying a child as SLD, they refer only to the definition at 300.541 (requiring a finding of a severe discrepancy) -- and they emphasize that federal regulations never required the use of an IQ test as part of an initial or reevaluation. They didn't mention processing at all.

In the past, however, OSEP has issued several letters regarding processing. In 1990, they said, "States and local school districts may, at their option, develop criteria for defining 'a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes,' it would appear that requiring a child classified as SLD to have a 'psychological processing disorder' is not an additional criterion . . . because it is already a criterion under the definition of SLD." They went on to say, "[Y]our letter asks 'whether a district may make this process eligibility determination on the basis of district-devised task observation checklists and/or standardized tests which have not been validated for that purpose.' In this situation, . . . tests and other evaluation materials must "have been validated for the specific purpose for which they are used." (Smith to Murphy, 4/89; similar advice was given in a letter, Smith to Bateman, on the same date)

In short, using standardized tests not specifically validated for the identification of basic psychological process deficits would not be appropriate.

However, in a letter from Schrag to Kennedy, June, 1990, OSEP said, "It is not necessary for the multidisciplinary evaluation team to demonstrate or measure the existence of a basic disorder in psychological processing in order to determine that a child has a specific learning disability. Rather, if a psychological processing disorder exists, it could manifest it self through a variety of symptoms that can be observed, such as hyperactivity, attention problems, concept association problems, etc. . . . The end result of the effects of these symptoms is a severe discrepancy between achievement and ability."

So . . . as I read that, you could use our classroom observation, since it's not standardized, for the same purpose even though it's not validated. (Because only if you use standardized tests do they need to be validated for the purpose for which they are being used.) Makes a lot of sense, right?

Then, and this is the letter that was on point with respect to your question, OSEP said in 1992 (Schrag to Ulissi, January, 1992)

"In your letter, you asked: ' . . . when deciding whether or not a child exhibits a processing deficit, [is this decision] made only if the child demonstrates an absolute deficit in some specified area of information processing rather than taking into consideration that a relative deficit may exist and be negatively impacting on the child's performance [?]'"

"It is OSEP's position that each child who is evaluated for a suspected learning disability must be measured against his or her expected performance, and not against some arbitrary general standard."

So the answer to your question (from OSEP's point of view) would be that a processing deficit would be defined as a discrepancy from expected performance, not a deficit from peers (an "arbitrary general standard.")

But that's just OSEP. I seriously doubt that a twelve year old OSEP letter, given the disrepute that the concept of expected achievement has fallen into over the past few years, would serve you well in a court of law. I personally don't spend much time identifying processing deficits, because my state's requirements are pro forma; there's a space for it, but it requires minimal creativity to write something that sounds sensible and, if the truth be known, no one really cares if it sounds sensible or not, as long as it's filled in. But if you're agonizing over it, I'd suggest doing whatever seems to work best for the child you're trying to help.