Identification of Children with Specific Learning Disabilities


Learning disability vs. specific learning disability? 


What is a learning disability?

 A learning disability (LD) a neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. The term learning disability is used to describe the seemingly unexplained difficulty a person of at least average intelligence has in acquiring basic academic skills. These skills are essential for success at school and work, and for coping with life in general. LD is not a single disorder, it is a term that refers to a group of disorders. Defining a Specific Learning Disability has always relied more heavily on what it is not, rather than specifying inclusionary criteria. Reauthorization of IDEA in 2004 included the following Language to help in identifying SLD's," The group described in 34 CFR 300.306 may determine that a child has a specific learning disability, as defined in 34 CFR 300.8(c)(10)".

Students with specific learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence but may have difficulties acquiring and demonstrating knowledge and understanding. This results in a lack of achievement for age and ability level, and a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual abilities. Having your child classified on an IEP with a Specific Learning Disability, instead of just the generic term Learning Disabled, means your child should receive a more focused and targeted intervention into dealing with your child's specific disability. Examples of Specific Learning Disabilities include:


Definition of Specific Learning Disability

Defined at §300.8(c)(10) as

A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written which may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to:

  •   listen
  •   think
  •   speak
  •   read
  •   write
  •   spell
  •   do mathematical calculations including conditions such as:
    • perceptual disabilities
    • brain injury
    • minimal brain dysfunction
    • dyslexia
    • developmental aphasia
Does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of:
  • visual, hearing, or motor disabilities
  • mental retardation
  • emotional disturbance
  • of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage


A Close Look at §300.307


IDEA includes additional procedures for determining SLD.
  • State must adopt criteria* for determining whether a child has an SLD as defined in IDEA * Consistent with §300.309 of Part B
  • Public agencies must use State criteria in determining whether a child has an SLD
  • State criteria may not require use of severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has an SLD.
  • State criteria must permit use of a process based on the child's response to scientific, research-based intervention.
  • State criteria may permit use of other alternative research-based procedures.

    Group Determining SLD

    At least one person qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations of children, such as a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, or remedial reading teacher.

Determining SLD

qChild’s achievement levels in 1 (or more) of 8 specified areas ........

1.  Oral expression

2.  Listening comprehension 

3.  Written expression 


4.   Basic reading skill

ü5.  Reading fluency skills

6.  Reading comprehension


7.  Math calculation


8.  Math problem solving

......and the child’s progress in 1 (or more) of these 8 areas is not sufficient to meet age or State-approved grade level standards when his or her response to scientific, research-based intervention is part of determination process


qChild exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to :
  • age
  • State-approved grade level standards, or
  • intellectual development
…that group determines is relevant to identification of SLD, and the group determines that its findings are not primarily the result of:                                                                                                                                                                                           
1. Visual, hearing, or motor disability
ü2. Mental retardation
ü3. Emotional disturbance
ü4. Cultural factors
ü5. Environmental or economic disadvantage or
ü6. Limited English proficiency 

“Either / Or / And”— Putting It Together

Three Laws Needed to Determine SLD;                                                                                                                                                     
1. §300.309(a)(1)

2. §300.309(a)(2)   (i)  or  (ii)

3. §300.309(a)(3)


To ensure child’s underachievement is not due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math,
group must consider data in 2 areas:

1,  Data showing that child was provided appropriate instruction in regular education settings, delivered by qualified personnel, before (or as part of) referral process, and

2. Data-based documentation that child’s achievement was repeatedly assessed at reasonable intervals. This documentation:

 A) Reflects formal assessment of student progress during instruction

 B) Was provided to the child's parents

The Public agency must promptly request parent consent for evaluation:

  • Whenever child is referred for evaluation

  • If, before referral for evaluation, child has not made adequate progress…

ü            1. after appropriate period of time

ü            2. when provided appropriate instruction by qualified personnel

Public agency must adhere to timeframes for evaluation,…unless timeframe is extended by mutual written agreement of the child's parents and group of qualified professionals. Exceptions also exist at §300.301(d) and (e).

1. IDEA: 60 days from receiving parent consent for evaluation


2. A lesser timeframe established by your State

Observation in SLD Determination

Public agency must ensure:

  • Child is observed in his or her learning environment (including the regular classroom setting)

  • to document child's academic performance and behavior in the areas of difficulty

    The group must decide whether to:

    • Use information from observation done before child was referred for an evaluation during routine classroom instruction and monitoring of child's performance


    • Have at least one group member conduct observation of the child’s academic performance in regular classroom after the child has been referred for evaluation and with parental consent

         Observation of child less than school age or out of school:  

                Group member must observe child in environment appropriate for a child of that age


    Documenting the Determination of  Eligibility

     For a child suspected of having SLD, documentation of determination of eligibility must contain a statement of 7 elements:

    1. Whether child has a specific learning disability

    2.  The basis for making the determination, including assurance that qualified professionals and child’s parent      determined child was a “child with a disability” and his or her educational needs

    3.  Relevant behavior (if any) noted during observation of child and relationship of that behavior to child's academic functioning

    4.  Educationally relevant medical findings (if any)

    5.  Whether child does not achieve adequately:

           a. for the child's age, or 

           b. to meet State-approved grade-level standards, consistent with §300.309(a)(1)

    6.   What the group has determined concerning effects on the child's achievement level of :

    •  Visual, hearing, or motor disability

    • Mental retardation

    • Emotional disturbance

    • Cultural factors

    • Environmental or economic disadvantage

    • Limited English proficiency

    7.  If child has participated in a process assessing his or her response to scientific, research-based intervention

              a. instructional strategies used and student-centered data collected and

              b. documentation that child's parents were notified about 3 things,  

    1. State's policies regarding amount and nature of student performance data that would be collected and general education services that would be provided

    2.  Strategies for increasing the child's rate of learning

    3.  Parents' right to request an evaluation

    Each member of the group must certify in writing whether the report reflects the member's own conclusions

    If report does not:

    Members must submit a separate statements presenting his or her conclusions