Preventing Early Learning Failure

By Bob Sornson | Go to book overview

4
WHO IS REALLY
LEARNING DISABLED?

Gary L. Hessler

At a time when almost 50 percent of all special education students are considered to have a learning disability, some people are questioning whether students labeled learning disabled (LD) actually have a certifiable handicap (Spear-Swerling & Sternberg, 1996). According to critics, schools often label students as LD so that they may receive services exclusive to special education students, rather than because they are “really” LD. As these services increasingly rely on general school district revenues for funding, some think they are draining resources from students in the “regular” classroom.

The explanation for continuing rise in the percentage of students labeled LD can be found by looking at how schools typically provide remedial services to students in core areas such as reading and writing. Studies supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland) show that at least 20 to 30 percent of American students cannot read well enough to successfully complete schoolwork (Lyon, 1995a, 1997, 1998). Unfortunately, there are few remedial reading and writing services within regular education programs, especially at the middle and high school levels. The only remedial literacy services available are usually in special education programs, and students are often diagnosed as LD so that they may have access to these resources. Many of these students are not LD at all, however; some are learning English as a second language, while others are “curriculum casualties” who never received appropriate instruction in the first place (see Vellutino et al., 1996, 1997, 1998).

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