How do schools determine if a child has a learning disability?
Determining whether a student has a learning disability is a multi-step task, and it is accomplished differently in different locales.
The process usually begins with the concerns of a teacher or parent (or the student him- or herself) about a student’s difficulty in learning a basic skill or understanding content. Teachers and others collect specific information about student performance and confer with school-based teams to develop strategies for help in the classroom. If these strategies produce positive results, the case is closed. If difficulties persist, a teacher, a parent, or the student could refer the case for special education evaluation. Once a referral is made, schools must follow the guidelines and procedures outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (For more specific information about a particular school’s procedures, contact the special education chairperson or representative at that school or at the local education agency’s central office.)
Once a referral is received, the school conducts a formal evaluation of the student. In the case of a suspected learning disability, the evaluation usually includes assessments of intellectual potential, academic achievement, emotional functioning, hearing and vision, social functioning, and performance in the classroom.
When the assessments are completed, a “group of qualified professionals and the parent of the child” examines the results (IDEA, Section 300.534 of 34 CFR Parts 300 and 303). Both the specific strengths and the specific weaknesses of the student are identified. If the results reveal learning difficulties that meet the local criteria, the team will identify the student as having a learning disability.