You Asked! – Question 22

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Q22: Why are younger students generally not found eligible for Specific Learning Disability when a “severe discrepancy” model is used for special education eligibility?

A: Under California law, the use of severe discrepancy may be considered but must not be required [5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(B), 34 CFR 300.307(a)(1)].  Many school districts are by default requiring a severe discrepancy by not looking to other allowable methods in determining a specific learning disability for special education eligibility purposes. [Please refer to You Asked #23 for additional information].

In California, a severe discrepancy is defined as a difference between intellectual ability (“IQ) and achievement of 1.5 standard deviations (or more)*. For our younger students with suspected dyslexia that would mean a “severe discrepancy” in areas such as basic reading (or spelling) on standardized achievement testing.

For younger students (Kindergarten through 2nd grade), it would be very difficult to have this large of a gap between IQ and standardized academic achievement test scores in reading or spelling.  The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) explains: “although there are many tests that may be used early (in Kindergarten and beginning of first grade) to assess beginning skills in reading and spelling, the standards for average achievement are generous. A child in late Kindergarten or early first grade may only need to read a few letters and two or three common words to score well enough to reach a score of “average”. Compared to other young learners, students with dyslexia may not seem to be “behind.” ” [Source:  The International Dyslexia Association, “Just the Facts: Testing and Evaluation“].

IDA states that “research demonstrates that additional direct instruction provided appropriately, beginning in Kindergarten through third grade, can help all but the most severely impaired students catch up to grade-level literacy skills and close the gap for most poor readers.  Assessment is the first step in identifying these students early to make sure they receive the effective instruction they need to succeed.” [Source:  The International Dyslexia Association, “Just the Facts: Dyslexia Assessment: What Is It and How Can It Help?]

So, it is unlikely that a younger student will demonstrate a “severe discrepancy” on standardized achievement testing for the reasons given above but we also know that early identification and appropriate intensive intervention greatly increases the positive outcomes for our dyslexic students so what should be done with respect to our younger students?

Even before formal assessment, careful early screening of younger students beginning in Kindergarten can help identify students at risk for dyslexia.  According to IDA, screening should occur in the following areas (before second grade), “it is more important to focus an evaluation on the precursors of reading development. Measures of language skills, phonological awareness, memory, and rapid naming are more suggestive of being at-risk for dyslexia among young children than are measures of word reading, decoding, and spelling. Therefore, measures of phonological awareness, memory, and rapid naming are typically included in Kindergarten and beginning first grade screening tests that can identify children who need targeted intervention to improve these critical skills so these children can meet grade-level benchmarks.” [Source:  The International Dyslexia Association, “Just the Facts: Testing and Evaluation“].

For purposes of assessment, California regulations appear to acknowledge the difficulty in identifying a severe discrepancy especially in younger children and provide IEP teams with flexibility in applying these rules under 5 CCR 3030(b)(10)(B)(3) which provides for the following:

“If the standardized tests do not reveal a severe discrepancy as defined in subdivisions 1. or 2. above, the IEP team may find that a severe discrepancy does exist, provided that the team documents in a written report that the severe discrepancy between ability and achievement exists as a result of a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes. The report shall include a statement of the area, the degree, and the basis and method used in determining the discrepancy. The report shall contain information considered by the team which shall include, but not be limited to:

(i)    Data obtained from standardized assessment instruments;

(ii)    Information provided by the parent;

(iii)    Information provided by the pupil’s present teacher;

(iv)    Evidence of the pupil’s performance in the regular and/or special education classroom obtained from observations, work samples, and group test scores;

(v)    Consideration of the pupil’s age, particularly for young children [emphasis added]; and

(vi)    Any additional relevant information.”

* –  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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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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