Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Issues Facing the Field of Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Issues Facing the Field of Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract. Four issues facing the field of learning disabilities are discussed: (a) defining learning disabilities in terms of discrepancy scores, (b) delineating the boundaries of how specific a learning disability must be, (c) identifying treatments with scientific credibility, and (d) implementing instructional policy that is in the best interest of the child. Although these issues have been discussed in the literature for some time, some deeper conceptual issues lie below the surface. These issues are related to (a) a weak research foundation for operationalizing learning disabilities; (b) too narrow a research focus, thereby excluding work in other areas; (c) few answers to some practical instructional questions; and (d) implementation of policy independent of data. Illustrations and possible redresses are provided.

Parts of this paper were presented at the Distinguished Lecture series, International Council for Learning Disabilities, Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 1998. Partial funding for this paper comes from the Peloy Endowment Fund, University of California-Riverside.

The number of students classified as having learning disabilities (LD) has increased substantially over the last 20 years. There were 783,000 children identified with LD in 1976, but by 1992-1993 the LD population totaled approximately 2.3 million. These children comprise almost 50% of all placements into special education (U.S. Office of Education, 1994). In addition, approximately another 120,000 students each year are identified as LD, a number equal to all Americans who have contracted AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis in 1995 (Roush, 1995). Based on these figures, one could argue that the classification of children with LD is epidemic. In an article published in Science entitled "Arguing Over Why Johnny Can't Read," Roush (1995) stated "If learning to read and write or do math at expected levels were a disease, then American school children would be in the middle of an epidemic" (p. 1986). This is a costly epidemic considering that public schools spend approximately $8,000 a year to educate an LD student compared with approximately $5,500 for an ordinary student (see also Dillon, 1994).

The popular press has published a plethora of articles on this epidemic. For example, several articles have related that would-be lawyers who are dyslexic are suing over bar exams (see the New York Times, October 23, 1997), dyslexic students are suing colleges over entrance exams (e.g., see the Los Angeles Times, September, 15, 1997), and some articles have suggested that we have gone too far in accommodating the needs of students with LD (see Robert Sternberg's article in the New York Times, August, 25, 1997).

Three news articles are of particular interest. The first appeared in the New York Times, Friday, April 8, 1994, with the caption "A Learning Disabilities Program That Gets Out of Hand." The article described a wealthy New York City real estate family donating in excess of 2 million dollars to a private school (Dalton School) to create a model education program for children with LD. One of the donors had experienced learning problems herself as a young girl and it was not until she was 50 years old that she was diagnosed as having dyslexia. Her contribution to the school supported approximately 14 full- and part-time learning specialists. She also financed research at the school to develop a screening test that would identify students with learning disabilities at an early age. Finally, she gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to a nearby university to evaluate the program and publish scholarly papers.

Of interest in this news story is the relationship between money and outcome. With increased resources, the school's new team of remedial specialists suddenly found increasing numbers of bright little children (IQ between 102-132) with LD. This is noteworthy because approximately 40 percent of the seniors who graduate from this private school attend Ivy League colleges. …

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