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Different Models Used In The Assessment of Specific Learning Disabilities Luisa Fernanda Hernandez Carlos Albizu University

SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITIES Abstract The following paper discusses the different models that have been commonly used to diagnose Specific Learning Disabilities. A brief overview of the Achievement-Discrepancy model is provided, as well as of the Response to Intervention model, in order to understand and discuss more in detail the currently suggested Hypothesis-Testing Cattell-Horn-Carroll model.

SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITIES Different Models Used In The Assessment of Specific Learning Disabilities Children are different in many ways, particularly when it comes to their physical attributes and their learning abilities. Usually, those differences are small and allow them to receive the benefits of general education. However, those considered to be exceptional children

are above or below from the norm and require individualized programs of special education, and related services, to learn. Thus, according to Heward (2006), exceptional children is a term that refers to children with learning and/or behavior problems, children with physical disabilities or sensory impairments, and children who are intellectually gifted or have a special talent (p. 10). The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the models used to identify those exceptional children with learning difficulties, based on the current accepted definition of Specific Learning Disabilities. The reason why there is a need of labeling a child as having a learning disability comes from the fact that it is required under the present law in order to receive special education benefits, services, and accommodations. The current accepted definition of Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) comes from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004, which was adopted by all the States. Based on this Act, the Florida Department of Education defines a Specific Learning Disability as: A disorder in one or more of the basic learning processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest in significant difficulties affecting the ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematics. Associated conditions may include, but are not limited to, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, or developmental aphasia. A specific learning disability does not include

SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITIES learning problems that are primarily the result of a visual, hearing, motor, intellectual, or emotional/behavioral disability, limited English proficiency, or environmental, cultural, or economic factors. (Florida Department of Education: http://www.fldoe.org/ese/sld.asp) The IDEA Improvement Act also states that in order to identify a child with a specific learning disability, the child must have difficulties achieving adequately for the childs age or has failed to meet State-approved grade-level standards in oral expression, written expression, listening comprehension, reading comprehension, basic reading, reading fluency, mathematics calculation, and/or mathematics problem solving (U.S. Department of Education, http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/%2Croot%2Cdynamic%2CTopicalBrief%2C23%2C). In addition, a local educational agency must assess if the child responds to scientific, researchbased intervention as part of the evaluation procedures (Heward, 2006, p.28), model known as Response-to-Intervention (RTI). If despite of the interventions and efforts made, the childs

achievement in a particular area does not improve, then the child is considered to have a Specific Learning Disability. This form of conceptualizing SLDs does not take into consideration cognitive abilities that underlie academic difficulties. In fact, it states that there is no need of establishing discrepancies between these two areas, which is considered one of its major flaws (Newton & McGrew, 2010; Kavale, Kauffman, Bachmeier, & LeFever, 2008). This model deviates from the federal guidelines provided previously, where a marked discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability were required for children to be identified as learning disabled (Heward, 2006; Herr & Bateman, 2003; Fletcher, Morris an& Lyon, 2003; Newton & McGrew, 2010; Flanagan, Fiorello, & Ortiz, 2010). According to Heward (2006), this other method known as the Achievement-Discrepancy model involved the

SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITIES comparison of a students score on an IQ test with his score on a standardized achievement test. In order to unify criteria for the diagnosis of SLDs, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR; APA, 2000) stated that this discrepancy must be of more than two standard deviations. Nevertheless, this model has been severely criticized because the diagnosis of a SLD is primarily made on the basis of test scores without taking into consideration the childs classroom performance, teachers input, or observations. In addition, it was noticed that some children with relatively flat test profiles, where no severe discrepancies were apparent, did not receive appropriate services despite being struggling academically because they did not fit in the definition of SLDs (Herr & Bateman, 2003; Fletcher, Morris & Lyon, 2003). Critics to both models (Kavale et al., 2008) stressed the need of finding a model that combined RTI and psychometric assessment in order to align the diagnostic procedure with the construct and current definition of SLD, since it is believed that children with SLDs have cognitive deficits and integrities in the basic psychological processes, which often lead to academic failure(p.144). Therefore, a third method within the RTI framework has been suggested for the identification of SLDs, known as the Hypothesis-Testing CHC Approach (HT-CHC) (Newton & McGrew, 2010). This method is based on the Catell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory, which is the foundation of almost all existing IQ tests. The CHC theory is a

hierarchical model of intelligence that measures abilities such as fluid reasoning, comprehensionknowledge, visuospatial ability, long-term storage and retrieval, auditory processing, cognitive processing speed, short-term memory, quantitative knowledge and reasoning (Newton & McGrew, 2010).

SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITIES The proponents of this model state that the cognitive abilities and processes measured in

the CHC model are related to academic outcomes. Thus, understanding this relationship provides insights into why certain methods of instruction or interventions are not effective for a certain child, and sheds light into the type of intervention that might be more effective. Therefore, since there is no single IQ test that measures all the above mentioned abilities and processes, the use of a flexible battery approach to assess and interpret them, named Cross-Battery Assessment (XBA), has been strongly suggested (Flanagan et al, 2010). According to Flanagan and colleagues (2010), the four-tier method used by the HT-CHC model relies on a hypothesis-testing approach to SLDs assessment, which pretends to ensure that appropriate questions and necessary data are collected throughout the different levels of intervention. Therefore, Tier I consists of delivering scientifically based instruction to all children, conducting universal screening to measure both achievement and cognitive abilities, and determining if there are students at risk of academic failure. If it is considered that a child is at risk of failure, then it is determined if eligibility for a comprehensive evaluation for special education is met, which would require to go directly to Tier IV, or if a Standardized Treatment Protocol (STP) is implemented. Consequently, Tier II involves interventions that require greater time and intensity, as well as smaller groups, to address any difficulty found. Hence, these interventions are closely matched to the students areas of cognitive and academic deficit (Flanagan et al., 2010, pg. 751), based on the preliminary findings from universal screening procedures. After implementation, intervention results are evaluated and it may be decided to discontinue services if they were successful, continue with them to consolidate improvement, or to move the student to Tier III for individualized intervention based on the Problem Solving

SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITIES Model (PSM). Within this third tier, the purpose is to get more specific information about the area(s) of difficulty, so that an individualized intervention can be developed and implemented. Moreover, ecological factors are examined more in detail, and the participation of other experts may also be requested. If interventions the interventions performed work and are generalized to the classroom, services may be discontinued, but if they are not generalized, they will continue. However, when the interventions are not successful, the student is moved to Tier IV, where a more comprehensive evaluation for special education eligibility covering all areas of suspected

disability is conducted in order to gain a better and more thorough understanding of the students strengths and weaknesses (Flanagan et al, 2010). It is believed by the proponents of this third model that it is better than RTI alone, and is also an important improvement of the ability-achievement discrepancy model (Newton & McGrew, 2010). Moreover, they firmly state that acknowledging the relations between ability and achievement assists practitioners in understanding what cognitive abilities and processes may be deficient in a student with specific academic difficulties and, therefore, interfering in the learning process (Flanagan et al., 2010, p. 741).


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