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(3.13) What are the eligibility criteria and evaluation process for a specific learning disability?

(3.13) What are the eligibility criteria and evaluation process for a specific learning disability?

A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do math. The basic psychological processes include: attention, visual processing, auditory processing, sensory-motor skills, cognitive abilities such as association, conceptualization, and expression. The disability may include conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and developmental aphasia. The disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, or intellectual disability, or emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 3030(b)(10)(A).] However, a specific learning disability does include a disability within the function of vision which results in visual perceptual or visual motor dysfunction. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56338.]

The specific learning disability category of special education eligibility is the largest category of special education students and the most complicated in terms of the factors which must be considered and the evaluation processes school districts may use in making this determination.

In California, school districts often use what is known as the “discrepancy model” to determine whether a student has a specific learning disability.  Under this approach, a student must be found to have a severe discrepancy between her intellectual ability and her achievement in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 3030(b)(10)(B).] Federal special education law allows school districts to use another assessment method known as “response to scientific, research-based intervention model” or “Response to Intervention (RTI) model” to determine if a student qualifies for special education with a learning disability. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.309(b).]  Federal law prohibits states from requiring school districts to use only the discrepancy model and requires states to also allow their school districts to use the RTI model. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.307(a).] Because of the federal law, California law permits schools to use either the discrepancy model or RTI model in determining whether a student has a specific learning disability. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56337(b)-(c).] Before you consent to a special education evaluation for your child under this category, be sure you know and understand which method of making this determination your school district will use.