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.