In my recent article, “What is A Comprehensive Assessment for SLD? RTI, PSW, and the Disagreements in the Field (https://www.drkorner.com/blog/270454-what-is-a-comprehensive-assessment-for-sld-rti-psw-and-the-disagreements-in-the-field),” I described the state of the field with respect to the latest science on the available methods (RTI, PSW) for identifying a specific learning disability (SLD).
Of equal importance is the need to finally let go of an “old friend”-the ability-achievement discrepancy (AAD) model, one that seems as difficult to discard as a cherished and comfortable article of clothing that has passed its’ usefulness.
The excruciatingly slow demise of AAD began after federal legislation, IDEA 2004, promulgated that the criteria for identifying a SLD: “Must not require the use of severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability as defined in §300.8 (c)(10).” New Jersey modified its’ special education to align with the federal code to read: “…when determining whether a child has a specific learning disability…a local educational agency…” „…Shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability…” These changes were influenced, in part, by the position adopted by a majority of those in the field (J. Hale, V. Alfonso, V., et.al., 2010, Critical issues in Response to Intervention, Comprehensive Evaluation, Specific Learning Disabilities Identification and Intervention: An expert white paper consensus. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33: 223-236). The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), following the majority, took the following position: “Relying upon an ability–achievement discrepancy as the sole means of identifying children with specific learning disabilities is at odds with scientific research and with best practice (Gresham & Vellutino, 2010).
While legislation has moved from dropping the requirement for a severe discrepancy and supporting the universally accepted need for comprehensive evaluations that include multiple sources of data, AAD still hangs around. So, what is so objectionable to this longstanding approach? Let me count the ways: AAD
- Is based on erroneous assumption that IQ is near-perfect predictor of achievement and is synonymous with individual’s potential
- Applied inconsistently across states, districts and schools
- Confuses significant discrepancy with meaningful discrepancy (i.e., 57% of WISC-V sample had index score variation of 23 points or more)
- A wait-to-fail method because discrepancies typically are not evident until students have reached third or fourth grade, discriminating against early elementary students
- Does not assess or inform about the quality of instruction received and whether it met the learning needs of students
- Confuses obtained discrepancies with a SLD when they may merely indicate underachievement
- Does not identify the area of processing deficit and the presence of processing deficits, an essential part of the definition of a SLD
- Fails to differentiate between students with LD from those who are low achievers
- Leads to over-identification of minority students
- Does not inform intervention-A disconnect between testing for eligibility vs. testing for what interventions match data ((From Flanagan et. al. Cross Battery Assessment, 2013; Iris Center, Peabody College, 2022).
At present, there is a bill, 2256, that is being considered to bring New Jersey up to date on the latest science regarding the identification of a SLD. Four professional organizations-the New Jersey Psychological Association, the New Jersey Association of School Psychologists, the Learning Disability Association of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Association of Learning Disability Teacher Consultants-have been collaborating since 2016 to change the special education code to bring it in line with current practice standards in the field. Yet, even here, opponents of the deletion of AAD have slowed its’ progress. These groups have offered to launch a training program throughout the state to train child study teams and other professionals in best practice methods.
It is time to let an old friend go and do what is right for the children in New Jersey. The use of AAD, a method considered invalid by most professionals in the field, needs to change.
Flanagan, D. P., Ortiz, S. O., & Alfonso, V. C. (2013). Essentials of Cross-Battery Assessment with C/D ROM (Third Edition). New York: Wiley.
Gresham, F.M., & Velluntino, F.R. (2010) What is the Role of Intelligence in the Identification of Specific Learning Disabilities? Issues and Clarifications. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 25(4): 194-206.
Individuals with disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-446,118Stat. 2647; 2004 Enacted H.R. 1350; 108 Enacted H.R. 1350. Final regulations implementing IDEA 2004 were published in the Federal Register, Monday, August 14, 2006, pp. 46540-46845.
J. Hale, V. Alfonso, V. Berninger, B. Bracken, C. Christo, E. Clark, M. Cohen, A. Davis,
S. Decker, M. Denckla, R. Dumont, C. Elliott, S. Feifer, C. Fiorello, D. Flanagan,
E. Fletcher-Janzen, D. Geary, M. Gerber, M. Gerner, S. Goldstein, N. Gregg, R. Hagin,
L. Jaffe, A. Kaufman, N. Kaufman, T. Keith, F. Kline, C. Kochhar-Bryant, J. Lerner,
G. Marshall, J. Mascolo, N. Mather, M. Mazzocco, G. McCloskey, K. McGrew, D. Miller,
J. Miller, M. Mostert, J. Naglieri, S. Ortiz, L. Phelps, B. Podhajski, L. Reddy,
C. Reynolds, C. Riccio, F. Schrank, E. Schultz, M. Semrud-Clikeman, S. Shaywitz,
J. Simon, L. Silver, L. Swanson, A. Urso, T. Wasserman, J. Willis, D. Wodrich,
P. Wright, & J. Yalof1 (2010). Critical issues in Response to Intervention, Comprehensive Evaluation, Specific Learning Disabilities Identification and Intervention: An expert white paper consensus. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33: 223-236.
Special Education (https://www.state.nj.us/education/code/current/title6a/chap14.pdf)