, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 304-331

Alternative approaches to the definition and identification of learning disabilities: Some questions and answers

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Recent consensus reports concur in suggesting major changes in the federal regulatory approach to the identification of learning disabilities (LD). These reports recommend abandoning the IQ-discrepancy model and the use of IQ tests for identification, and also recommend incorporation of response to instruction (RTI) as one of the identification criteria. These changes are also recommended to states in the current reauthorization of the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). While not mandatory, states that follow these recommendations will experience major changes in identification and treatment of students served under the LD category. This paper reviews the basis for these recommendations, summarizing four recent consensus group reports on special education that concur in suggesting these changes. Seventeen commonly asked questions about these changes are presented, with responses. In order to ensure adequate instruction for students with LD, it is essential that identification practices focus on assessments that are directly related to instruction, that any services for students who are struggling prioritize intervention over eligibility, and that special education be permitted to focus more on results and outcomes and less on eligibility and process. Identification models that incorporate RTI represent a shift in special education toward the goals of better achievement and behavioral outcomes for students identified with LD, as well as those students at risk for LD.

Supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, HD25802-13, “Center for the Study of Learning and Attention Disorders” (JMF); and the Office of Special Education Programs: H326Y02002, National Center for Special Education Accountability Monitoring (WAC); H324U010004, National Research Center for Learning Disabilities (DJR), and H324X010013, Preventing Reading Difficulties: A Three-Tiered Intervention Model (SRC). The National Center for Learning Disabilities also provided support for the development of this paper. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be viewed as necessarily representative of others associated with the centers listed or the funding agencies supporting these centers.