You Asked! – Question 25

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Q25:  Does a student with dyslexia need to be found eligible as having a “Language or Speech Disorder” in order to receive speech-language services? My student is already eligible for special education services under “Specific Learning Disability”.

A:  No, once qualified for special education services, a student is eligible for any service required to meet his educational needs [20 USC Section 1414(d)(1)(A)(i).  A student does not have to be found eligible as having a Language or Speech Disorder in order to receive related speech and language services.

An example of this situation is where you are sitting in your student’s initial IEP meeting and the IEP team agrees that your student is eligible for special education under the category of Specific Learning Disability. As part of the IEP team review of the speech and language assessment, you note that there are some areas of below average scores that are “red flags” that would indicate the need for IEP goals and services for speech & language. However, the Speech & Language Pathologist says that the student isn’t eligible for speech & language services because the student didn’t meet the eligibility criteria for a Language or Speech Disorder.

This is a frequent misunderstanding at IEP team meetings.  The Speech and Language Assessment may determine that the student’s assessment scores are not low enough for the student to be found eligible for special education under the category of a “Language or Speech Disorder”, however, if the student has already been found eligible for special education services under a different impairment category (i.e. Specific Learning Disability, Other Health Impaired, etc.) and the student’s speech and language assessment show that it is also an area of need, then the IEP team should develop speech-language goals and speech-language services should be included in the student’s IEP.

This is important because very low assessment scores are required under California law in order to meet the “Language or Speech Disorder” criteria and it can be very difficult to meet these criteria [5 CCR 3030(b)(11)].

In addition to phonological processing deficits, students with dyslexia may have a history of delayed speech or language development. These individuals may also have a history of impairment in articulation/phonological production and/or receptive/expressive spoken language skills. Although students with dyslexia may exhibit various types of language problems in the toddler and preschool years, their language problems typically become very obvious once they begin trying to learn to read and write [Catts, H.W. and Kamhi, A.G. (Eds.). 2005. Language and reading disabilities (2nd Ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon]. Therefore, there is an increased likelihood that dyslexic students may have a need for speech-language services as a related service in their IEP.

It is important to remember that special education evaluations must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related service needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified” [34 CFR 300.304(c)(6)].

According to the Special Education Rights & Responsibilities Manual, “speech and language therapy may be the most frequently requested related service. Speech therapy addresses articulation difficulties, a common disability. Language therapy addresses difficulties with memory, verbal expression, and listening. If your child has any difficulties with speech or language, you should ask the district, in writing, to do a speech and language evaluation. Any student eligible for special education may receive speech and language therapy if she needs the service to benefit from special education.” (SourceSpecial Education Rights & Responsibilities Manual by Community Alliance for Special Education and Disability Rights California, Chapter 5, Question 13, page 5-16).

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You Asked! – Question 23

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Q23:  Must my student have a “severe discrepancy” in order to be found eligible for special education under the category of specific learning disability?

A:  Under CA law, the use of a “severe discrepancy” model may be considered but must not be required [34 CFR 300.307(a)(1) and 5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(B)].*

California has regulations that guide the process for determining whether a student has a specific learning disability. Dyslexia is specifically listed as an example of a qualifying condition under Specific Learning Disability [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)].  In general, three alternatives are permitted:

  1. The student has a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning. The decision as to whether or not a severe discrepancy exists shall take into account all relevant material which is available on the pupil [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(B)].


  1. The student does not achieve adequately for his age or to meet state-approved grade-level standards in one or more specified areas when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the student’s age or state-approved grade-level standards, even when educators use processes based on the student’s response to scientific, research-based intervention [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(C)(1) and 5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(C)(2)(i)], such as RtI2 or MTSS.


  1. The student exhibits a pattern of strengths or weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, state-approved grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability, using appropriate assessments…” [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(C)(2)(ii)].

Ask the IEP team which of the above alternatives were considered in determining a student’s eligibility for special education.

Use of severe discrepancy models has been highly criticized by the US Department of Education (USDOE).  The USDOE states that there are many reasons why the use of the “severe discrepancy” model “should be abandoned” stating that using it is “potentially harmful to students as it results in delaying intervention until the student’s achievement is sufficiently low so that the discrepancy is achieved.”  USDOE referred to the use of the severe discrepancy model as a flawed “wait to fail” model [USDOE Commentary and Explanation About Proposed Regulations for IDEA 2004].

As a side note, according to dyslexia expert, Dr. Louisa Moats, “since the 1980s scientists have debunked the practice of using IQ tests in reading disability diagnoses and relying on discrepancy formulas to identify students who are eligible for special instruction in reading (Siegel, 1989; Stanovich, 1991; Fletcher et al., 2007). Compulsory IQ testing in child evaluations leads to under-identification of reading disabled students in the lower half of the IQ continuum. These students in the lower half of the IQ distribution are often those from less advantaged life circumstances, but their reading difficulties are not distinguishable in cause or remedy from students with higher IQs. The use of IQ-achievement discrepancy as a classification tool or gateway to remedial instruction is prejudicial, unnecessary, and invalid and should have been abandoned decades ago.” [Source: “Can Prevailing Approaches to Reading Instruction Accomplish the Goals of RTI?” IDA Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Summer Edition, Volume 43, pgs. 15-22].

* –  Please be advised that in California, IQ testing of African-American students is prohibited [refer to Larry P. v. Riles, 495 F. Supp. 926 (N.D. Cal 1979), 793 F. 2d 969 (9th Cir. 1984), 37 F. 3d 485 (9th Cir. 1994).  Also, see article from CA Association of School Psychologists (CASP Today Spring 2013 – Larry P. Edition, pgs. 7, 17)].

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