Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Training School Psychologists to Identify Specific Learning Disabilities: A Content Analysis of Syllabi

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Training School Psychologists to Identify Specific Learning Disabilities: A Content Analysis of Syllabi

Article excerpt

School psychologists have a variety of important roles, but arguably, one of their primary roles is to assess students, often for the purpose of determining their eligibility to receive special education services. In fact, school psychologists are estimated to spend approximately half of their time in special education decision making (Castillo, Curtis, & Gelley, 2012). Students with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) are the largest single group of students with disabilities receiving special education services. On the basis of the most recent available data, 2.4 million children are eligible for special education within the SLD category (37.5% of children receiving special education services) in the school setting (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2012). School psychologists are important team members in SLD assessments and contribute information to school-based teams that engage in the special education decision-making process.

The U.S. Office of Education (1968) initially defined an SLD 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 an imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations" (p. 34). The U.S. Office of Education (1976) indicated that "a specific learning disability may be found if a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability" (p. 52405). Despite a consistent, longstanding federal definition of SLDs, the specific method or methods of SLD identification have been the subject of national debate for decades (Haight, Patriarca, & Burns, 2002; Reynolds & Shaywitz, 2009; Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003). Historically, the dominant method for determining SLD eligibility has relied primarily on some variation of the ability--achievement (Ab-Ach) discrepancy (Reschly & Hosp, 2004), which uses the tools of cognitive and achievement assessments. Criticisms of the Ab-Ach discrepancy method include (a) lack of research documenting the utility of cognitive processing profiles to inform treatment (Case, Speece, & Molloy, 2003; Reschly, 2008; Reschly & Hosp, 2004); (b) use of cognitive or intelligence testing with students from culturally or linguistically diverse (CLD) backgrounds (Klingner et al., 2005); (c) failure to document a discrepancy in young children when intervention would be most beneficial (Case et al., 2003); (d) regression of cognitive scores (Reschly & Hosp, 2004); and (e) inability to distinguish between discrepant students and nondiscrepant, struggling students (Case et al., 2003). It is beyond the scope of this article to address decades of criticism of the Ab-Ach method, but the interested reader is referred to Reschly (2008).

Although the first part of the definition of SLDs has not changed over the years, the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA], 2004) changed the discrepancy criterion in response to a growing body of research that questioned the utility and effectiveness of this method (e.g., Stuebing et al., 2002). IDEA (2004) indicated that each state must adopt criteria for determining whether a child has an SLD and stated the following:

   [These criteria] must not require the use of a
   severe discrepancy between intellectual ability
   and achievement for determining whether
   a child has a specific learning disability, as
   defined in 34 CFR 300.8(c)(10); must permit
   the use of a process based on the child's
   response to scientific, research-based intervention;
   and may permit the use of other
   alternative research-based procedures for determining
   whether a child has a specific
   learning disability, as defined in 34 CFR
   300.8(c)(10). (p. 46786)

The final regulations of IDEA (2004) that included response-to-intervention (RTI) models of identification were published in 2006, approximately eight years ago. …

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