Contemporary Special Education Research: Syntheses of the Knowledge Base on Critical Instructional Issues

By Russell Gersten; Ellen P. Schiller et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Reading Differences Between Low-Achieving Students With and Without Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis

Douglas Fuchs Lynn S. Fuchs Peabody College of Vanderbilt University

Patricia G. Mathes University of Texas--Houston Medical School

Mark W Lipsey Peabody College of Vanderbilt University

In 1977, the term learning disabilities (LD) was included as a category of exceptionality in the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142). Since that time, the percentage of students with LD has increased steadily so that students with LD now comprise 7% of the school-age population and more than 50% of all children with disabilities ( U.S. Department of Education, 1995).

Despite increasing use of the LD label, serious conceptual and procedural questions have plagued the LD classification system (e.g., Kavale, Forness, & Lorsbach, 1991; Mercer, King-Sears, & Mercer, 1990; Shinn, Tindal, Spira, & Marston, 1987). Questions arise because LDs are a "soft disability" ( Reschly, 1996) for which no physical markers are known. This permits subjectivity to permeate the identification process.

Additionally, because LD is associated with unexpected failure to learn, most definitions have incorporated the notion of a discrepancy between achievement and ability. The measurement of such discrepancies, however, has proven problematic due to poor reliability of difference scores and because varying discrepancy formulas and test instruments produce inconsistent identifications ( Shepard, Smith, & Vojir, 1983).

As a consequence of these conceptual and procedural problems, some have questioned the meaningfulness of current LD definitions. Of course,

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