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].

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You Asked! Question 8

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Q8:  IEP Team states they don’t use the terms “dyslexia”, “dysgraphia” or “dyscalculia” in student’s IEP.  What can I do?

A:  IDEA requires that the IEP Team tailor specially designed instruction to specifically meet the individual needs of the student.  As Specific Learning Disability is an umbrella term, the IEP Team needs to carefully document all areas of deficits.  If the student exhibits characteristics of dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia it is important that these areas of need are specified in the IEP.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) encourages States to review their policies, procedures and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.  Finally, in ensuring the provision of Free and Appropriate Public Education, USDOE stressed the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia during IEP meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA (Source: OSERS Dear Colleague Letter October 23rd, 2015).  To download a complete copy of this letter, click HERE.

In addition, under the California Education Code Section 56334, deficits in phonological processing need to be identified as part of special education eligibility requirements. A deficit in phonological awareness is viewed as the hallmark of reading disability or dyslexia (Source: The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing 2nd Edition Examiners Manual by Richard K. Wagner et al. page 37). It is critical that the IEP team note deficits in phonological processing in the IEP in order to determine the individualized intervention for the student.

Please also see California Department of Education’s PowerPoint page 10 that it is okay for school districts to use the term dyslexia.

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