Fewer students called ‘learning disabled’

Fewer students are being classifed as learning disabled, reports Education Week. But nobody’s sure why.

Learning-disability enrollments declined from 6.1 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 5.2 percent in 2007-08, according to the U.S Department of Education. Overall,  special ed enrollments dropped from 13.8 percent to 13.4 percent.

Forty percent of special ed students are considered learning disabled; 80 percent of those have trouble with reading.

So, scholars say, the dropping numbers could be linked to improvements in reading instruction overall; the adoption of “response to intervention,” which is an instructional model intended to halt the emergence of reading problems; and a federally backed push toward early intervention with younger students.

All those efforts could be serving to separate students with true disabilities from those who just haven’t been taught well in the early grades.

In the first year Florida schools adopted Reading First, 10.4 percent of third graders were identified as learning-disabled, wrote Joseph K. Torgesen, a psychology and education professor at Florida State. That dropped to 6 percent of third graders by the third year. In each year of school, more children learned to read well.

But some see another explanation: Schools may be classifying fewer children as learning disabled to avoid higher costs or to evade accountability for educating special-ed students.

It’s also possible that some children who would have been diagnosed as learning disabled in the past are now categorized with  autism spectrum disorder or “other health impairments,” which are showing growth.

On Children of the Code: “Mind-shame” endangers the schooling of children who struggle with reading.

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Comments

  1. But some see another explanation: Schools may be classifying fewer children as learning disabled to avoid higher costs or to evade accountability for educating special-ed students.

    It’s also possible that some children who would have been diagnosed as learning disabled in the past are now categorized with autism spectrum disorder or “other health impairments,” which are showing growth.

    These two reasons are both equally likely. IDEIA 2004 downplayed the old discrepancy model in favor of using models such as Response to Intervention and Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses; the result has been fewer LD kids. That was an intention of the push to change. However, some of the students formerly identified with LD also had co-morbid, often unidentified ADHD which may or may not have been treated. ADHD is a condition that can fit under the label of Other Health Impairments, so it would explain the rise of that condition. Autism is more likely tied to a broader definition of the condition.

  2. Agree with Joycem. In addition, the old discrepancy model was not really capable of delivering a diagnosis, and even farther from being able to point to a cause or an effective intervention. Many came to believe that it captured and labeled lots of children who were behind not because of any characteristic of their own but because of poor or intermittent instruction, difficult home life, etc. Those children did need an intervention, but not a label.

  3. Agreed with both posters, above. The change away from the discrepancy model explains what we are seeing in the field. Additionally, increased and appropriate bilingual testing has given us more accurate readings of LD in ELL communities. There really is a confluence of events happening at the same time.

  4. “Fewer students labeled learning disabled” isn’t the same thing as “fewer students needing accommodations and support to level the playing field”.

    I’m still chewing on the data