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LOGICAL STEPS IN DETERMINATION OF A SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITY

Is there a problem with academic performance?
  1. Does the student have low scores on group or individual achievement tests?
  2. Is the student receiving low or failing marks in a class?
  3. Is the student working much too hard or much too long to earn adequate marks?
  4. Is the teacher making extraordinary adaptations or accommodations for the student?
  5. Is there a specific area of performance (e.g., tests, homework, note-taking, etc.) that is notably deficient?
  6. Is there another indication of insufficient academic performance?
Are there one or more disorders in basic psychological processes involved in under-standing or in using language, spoken or written?
  1. Can each disorder be observed or inferred from academic performance?
  2. Can each disorder be documented through assessment?
Can the Team make a logical argument that each identified disorder manifests itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations?

What is the best estimate of the studentís actual intellectual ability?

  1. Which scales, factors, or subtests on intelligence tests are likely to be depressed by the disorder or disorders?
  2. Which intelligence test, scales, or factors would be likely to yield an estimate of actual intellectual ability uncontaminated by the disorder or disorders?
  3. What is the best estimate of the studentís actual intellectual ability based on those measures?
Is there a severe discrepancy between the studentís level of intellectual ability (4. C.) and the studentís achievement in:
  1. oral expression;
  2. listening comprehension;
  3. written expression;
  4. basic reading skill;
  5. reading comprehension;
  6. mathematics calculation; or
  7. mathematics reasoning?
Does the student require special modifications of or accommodations in the educational program in order to achieve at levels commensurate with age and ability (4. C.)?


Does the student require a uniquely designed program of special instruction in order to achieve at levels commensurate with age and ability (4. C.)?

Problems may be subtle or difficult to document, but if there are no academic problems at all, there is no educational disability. [A problem with an important life function other than academic performance might trigger an identification under Section 504 of P.L. 93-112 or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).]

Pay close attention to reports of problems that do not cause low marks. For example, the teacher may already be providing an informal program of special education.


This step follows next in a logical sequence, but determination of any disorder(s) may not be clear until completion of psychological, educational, speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or other evaluations. There should be multiple confirmations of any disorders.

It is not enough simply to specify deficient achievement and a disorder. There needs to be a logical, cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

See Mark 4:25. The Team must not allow a disorder to depress estimates of both intelligence and achievement and then conclude there is no discrepancy between the two. For example, verbal and nonverbal learning disabilities, respectively, will depress verbal (Gc) and visual, spatial (Gv) intelligence measures. For another example, a disorder in quantitative knowledge (Gq) would depress the WISC Arithmetic and Verbal IQ scores and DAS Sequential & Quantitative and Nonverbal (fluid) Scale scores.

Remember that achievement may be assessed by means other than test scores (1. B. Ė 1. F.). Maintain a bias in favor of reality. Achievement tests must be chosen thoughtfully. For example, a very brief achievement test is not a valid measure of academic performance for a student with a short attention span, and an untimed, silent reading test will not pick up problems with reading fluency. Do not obsess over formulae. Some data will not fit formulae. The Team must exercise reasoned, professional judgment.

Here is the crucial issue for identification under Section 504 or the ADA. The needed accommodations or modifications should be more than you would routinely ask of a teacher of moderate skill, experience, and dedication for any student.

This is the crucial issue for identification of an educational disability. If the student does not require a uniquely designed program of special instruction, but meets the other criteria, the identification should be under Section 504 rather than the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

John Willis
Rivier College
5/17/99