Specific Learning Disability Eligibility
As with any eligibility decision, the question of eligibility for special education under the category of Specific Learning Disability is an important one. Special education can provide much needed supports and insight for students with disabilities. At the same time, the identification for special education can impact the ways a student experiences school, and the mindset of the learner and those around them.
A Specific Learning Disability (SLD) means a weakness in one or more cognitive abilities which has an adverse effect on academic achievement in one or more of the following areas:
- basic reading skills
- reading fluency skills
- reading comprehension
- mathematics calculation
- mathematics problem-solving
- written expression
(Oral Expression and Listening Comprehension are more typically addressed under Communication Disorder)
As with any important educational decision, determination of a disability in the category of Specific Learning Disability cannot be based on any single piece of data (test, assessment, observation, etc.). An evaluation must include a variety of assessment tools and strategies, including input from the student’s parents and an observation of the student’s academic performance and behavior in the general education classroom.
When determining eligibility for culturally and linguistically diverse students, it is important for teams to consider factors of culture and language in the student’s academic performance. Teams should be very cautious about identifying an Emerging Bilingual student with a Specific Learning Disability, particularly in the areas of reading and writing.
The West Linn-Wilsonville School District uses a Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses (PSW)model to establish eligibility for a student in the category of Specific Learning Disability. A pattern of strengths and weaknesses is evident when the results of achievement and cognitive testing show that the student has at least one area of academic weakness that is aligned with at least one area of related cognitive weakness.
When considering a Specific Learning Disability, the team should consider the developmental level of the child and the range of previous instruction. A student may struggle for many reasons. The presence of a disability is one of the least likely reasons for a student to struggle in class.
When considering evaluation of Kindergarteners & 1st graders for a Specific Learning Disability, use extreme caution. Many students in their first or second year of formal schooling experience challenges that are related to their developmental level and range of previous instruction. These struggles are most likely not the result of a disability. Consult with your Special Ed Instructional Coordinator, School Psychologist or Student Services Administrator before moving forward with an SLD evaluation for a K/1 student.
When considering evaluation of Emerging Bilingual students for a Specific Learning Disability, use extreme caution. Many students who are learning English as a second language experience challenges that are related to language acquisition and acculturation. These struggles are most likely not the result of a disability. Language acquisition research shows that students take 5-7 years to become fully proficient in a second language (particularly the specific academic vocabulary used in school). Consult with your ELD Specialist, Special Ed Instructional Coordinator, School Psychologist or Student Services Administrator before moving forward with an SLD evaluation for an Emerging Bilingual student.
Before moving forward with an evaluation for Specific Learning Disability, the Child Study team should explore additional supports through 2 rounds of specific targeted interventions and progress monitoring using apples to apples data.
If a student is currently eligible under Communication Disorder (CD) and is encountering academic struggles, it may be appropriate to evaluate for SLD. The team should follow these steps:
- observation in general ed subject area related to area of concern
- progress monitoring as part of present levels (see IEP page of handbook)
- document baseline data that necessitates increasing interventions
For a student to be found eligible with a Specific Learning Disability in using the Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses model, they need to demonstrate both cognitive and achievement weaknesses in a related area.
In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Specific Learning Disability is listed with the disability code #82
NASP Position Statement on SLD - National Association of School Psychologists
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Eligibility for a Specific Learning Disability is based on a strengths and weaknesses model. If a student scored in the average range in an area, can we add goals in that area?
Yes. If the team determines that a student needs a goal in a specific area, then they can add a goal. However, it is important to consider how the team would determine that a student needs a goal (and Specially Designed Instruction) in an area where they scored in the average range.