IDEA Part B regulations provide guidance for identifying children with specific learning disabilities (SLD). Following are the points most relevant for ASHA members who work in school settings.
According to the regulations, a state:
Although the regulations do not indicate that states may prohibit the use of a discrepancy model, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) indicated in the Analysis of Comments and Changes section of the regulations that states are free to prohibit the use of a discrepancy model.
The statement that reads, "must permit the use of a process based on the child's response to scientific, research-based intervention," means that local educational agencies (LEAs) may use a response-to-intervention (RTI) approach to determine if a child is suspected of having SLD. ED indicated that an RTI process does not replace the need for a comprehensive evaluation. A public agency must use a variety of data gathering tools and strategies and cannot rely on any single procedure (e.g., RTI) as the sole criterion for determining eligibility for special education and related services. This requirement applies to all children suspected of having a disability, including those suspected of having SLD. Models or procedures that claim to assist in identifying a child with SLD but are not based on sound scientific research are not appropriate.
When RTI is being used to determine if a child is suspected of having SLD, the parents must be notified (consent is not required) about: (A) the state's policies regarding the amount and nature of student performance data that would be collected and the general education services that would be provided; (B) strategies for increasing the child's rate of learning; and (C) the parents' right to request an evaluation (§300.311(a)(7)). This notification must be documented in the eligibility determination. Thus, the state education agency (SEA) must have clear state policies pertaining to RTI that can be communicated to parents by the LEA. Furthermore, RTI must not be used to delay identification. Section 300.309(c) requires the school to promptly request parental consent to evaluate a child suspected of SLD who has not made adequate progress under RTI.
The regulations state that the determination of whether a child suspected of having SLD must be made by the child's parents and a team of qualified professionals, which must include:
It is determined that a child has SLD if:
The school must ensure that the child is observed in his or her learning environment (including the regular classroom setting) to document academic performance and behavior in the areas of difficulty. In the case of a child of less than school age or out of school, the child must be observed in an environment appropriate for a child of that age.
Elimination of the requirement of the use of a discrepancy formula is being viewed positively by ASHA, as this practice (often referred to as cognitive referencing) has often resulted in the denial of needed services to students whose achievement in certain areas may be commensurate with overall IQ scores. There are serious theoretical and statistical flaws in the practice of comparing results of standardized tests to identify a disability and determine eligibility for services.
Because of their expertise in language and learning, ASHA members play a critical role in RTI processes. In addition, they are important members of the teams for determining if a child has an SLD.
ASHA members should become familiar with RTI processes as a means of identifying children with disabilities and should advocate for the use of RTI in the schools where they work. Resources are available on ASHA's Cognitive Referencing webpage, ASHA's Response to Intervention webpage, and at the U.S. Department of Education's website on IDEA. As policies can vary from state to state, ASHA members must be familiar with their state's policies pertaining to RTI.