A learning disability does NOT mean a student can’t learn. And it does not mean that a student will not be successful in life.
A learning disability is a neurologically-based processing problem - which is just a fancy way of saying a student learns differently.
While we can all identify our struggling learners, how do we know if a student has a learning disability?
THE DISCREPANCY MODEL
One way to determine if a student has a specific learning disability is to utilize THE DISCREPANCY MODEL. This is the old school method, but as of today, it still holds true.
Here’s how it works!
A SEVERE discrepancy must exist between ability and achievement. In other words, a severe discrepancy between cognitive development usually measured by some IQ test such as the WISC and academic achievement testing using something like the WIAT-III, Woodcock Johnson, or KTEA, MUST be present when using the discrepancy model.
But what constitutes a “SEVERE” discrepancy?
Typically, a good rule of thumb is to use a -1.5 standard deviation as your definition of severe.
A student scoring within the first or second standard deviation above average in IQ (i.e. 118) and achieving low to below average in academic areas (standard score of 84) would be considered to have a severe discrepancy.
A student’s IQ MUST fall into the average or above range in order to qualify for special education services under a specific learning disability. A discrepancy would be noted if the academic percentiles or stanines fell into the below average ranges.
If there is a significant discrepancy between a students IQ and a student’s achievement/academic testing scores, it indicates the presence of a learning disability. The area of the discrepancy indicates the area of the learning disability.
For example, if a student’s IQ is 90, and his/her Reading achievement tests’ standardized scores fell at 75 or under, it can be concluded that a disability in reading is present.
However, if a student’s IQ is 85, which is low average, and all of his/her academic testing is right around the low average range, they are not learning disabled. Rather, they are functioning at his/her cognitive level.
Here are some more examples:
IQ - 90 (average)
Academic Achievement in Reading Composite - 78 (below average)
Finding: Specific Learning Disability in Reading
IQ - 100 (average)
Academic Achievement in Mathematics Composite - 82 (below average)
Finding: Specific Learning Disability in Mathematics
IQ - 100 (average)
Academic Achievement in Reading Composite - 87 (average)
Finding: non-finding as Specific Learning Disability
A severe discrepancy can also be viewed within subtests on cognitive testing as well. For example, if using the WISC IQ test and a student scores reveal a ten point or higher discrepancy between verbal and performance IQ scores and a fairly decent variation among the various subtests, it could also be indicative of a specific learning disability.
THE RTI MODEL
The Response to Intervention (RTI) Model is the second path leading to Special Education eligibility of services under a specific learning disability.
Here’s how it works!
An educator has an area of concern about a student. For example, the student is reading 2 years below grade level and is making minimal progress in the classroom.
First, the educator should meet with the family to discuss concerns, obtain any additional background information, and explain the student referral process to the family.
Second, the educator meets with the school’s student support team. This team can include the family. At the first meeting, the educator should present concerns and share relevant information as well as interventions trialed and their results.
Using this information, the team should identify appropriate AND research-based interventions, develop an action plan for the student, and set a date to meet in 3 weeks.
Third, the second meeting takes place. At this meeting, the team should compare the baseline data obtained from the first meeting to the current performance data gathered after the 3 weeks of intervention.
If the student has made progress, the difficulty has been solved!
If the difficulty persists and minimal progress has been made, the team may increase the intervention and/or identify additional interventions. The action plan is revised and the team should set a date to meet in 3 weeks.
If the difficulty persists and no progress has been made, the team may suspect a disability. As a result, the team should refer the student to special education. In this case, the special education team may choose to do further testing to either support or rule out a learning disability.
Fourth, if a third meeting has been set, the team should meet and review the student’s progress with the intervention(s).
If the student has made progress, the difficulty has been solved!
If the difficulty persists, or rather, the student has made minimal to no progress with the intervention(s), the student should be referred to special education. In this case, the special education team can find a student eligible for special education services under a specific learning disability without further evaluations.
An important facet of the special education team’s determination is to rule out exclusionary factors that could be mimicking the presence of a disability. So even if a severe discrepancy is present and/or the RTI model has concluded a referral to special education, the team must determine that the lack of achievement in the area of concern is not a result of cultural factors, environmental or economic disadvantage, limited English proficiency, visual, hearing, or motor disability, or an emotional disturbance.
While we never want to label a student, we most certainly do not want to mis-label a student!
By: Miss Rae
So you finished testing a student. Now what?
Most testing programs have taken some of the workload off of your shoulders! The majority of achievement tests have moved to web-based scoring. Testers are able to plug in raw scores, click a button or two, and get furnished with standard scores and various reports able to do some of the analysis for you.
Writing testing reports can feel overwhelming. The information shared within a testing report is conveyed to families and educators working with the student. The data should be utilized during the educational planning process.
Every testing report should begin by stating the reason for testing. Has the student been referred for testing due to a recent diagnosis? Has the student been struggling in the area of reading? Is the referral the result of a student/teacher assistance team meeting? Is the testing the result of a three-year re-evaluation per a student’s IEP?
Next, the tests administered should be listed.
A student’s background information should be summarized as well. What information is relevant for this evaluation? Did a student repeat a grade? Has the student had extended absences from school? Is the student a second-language learner?
Evaluations should include an observation of the student. A student should be observed for about a fifteen minute time period. Observations should be performed during the content that is the area of the disability.
Evaluators should also observe student behavior during testing. For example, did the student appear anxious during reading subtests? Did the student use strategy for solving difficult problems, or did s/he not employ any strategies for solutions? Did the student wear glasses?
Next, provide a brief blurb that summarizes the standardized academic achievement test used to measure previously learned skills. For example, common tests are the WIAT-III, Woodcock Johnson IV Tests of Achievement, KTEA-3, etc.
After the blurb, testers should include the standard score range along with the test’s classification. For example…
The next step is to look at each academic cluster that was tested. The tester should summarize the facilitation and purpose of each subtest. For example, the student was given two minutes to solve single-digit multiplication problems to measure fluency of basic math facts.
After an evaluator summarizes a student’s performance on each subtest in a skill area, strengths and weaknesses within the cluster should be discussed.
Begin with areas of strength in a student’s cluster area profile. Analyze all subtests in the skill area in order to identify strengths. Cite specific examples within the report as well to support the claims.
Next, address a student’s areas of need, and use this terminology. Lagging skills should not be termed weaknesses for the word’s connotations. Again, cite specific examples to support analysis claims.
Include each cluster area evaluated in the same manner.
Then, an evaluator should include additional academic testing areas. Report about these in the same manner as well, addressing areas of strength and need.
Curriculum-based measures and progress monitoring results should be reported next.
Academic evaluation reports should conclude with a summary and recommendations based upon the summary. An evaluator will want to summarize the results…
STUDENT has learned a strategy of using context clues in order to make meaning within a text. This was seen in the Quick Phonics Screener as well as the Reading Comprehension subtest on the WIAT-III. He has a good grasp on short vowels and consonant letter sounds and is able to apply these skills when decoding. Noted areas of need for STUDENT were long vowel words, R-controlled vowels, and consonant digraphs (i.e. wr, sl). This was seen both in the Quick Phonics Screener, WIAT-III reading subtests, as well as the Ekwall Shanker Phonics subtest. STUDENT scored in the below average range on each reading subtest in the WIAT-III. This appears to be the result of a weakness in phonological awareness. These findings were further supported by the subtests of the CTOPP. STUDENT exhibited an area of need when asked to omit a part of a given word. This shows a weakness in an awareness of and access of oral language, which is represented in written language. A deficit in phonological awareness would indicate a reading disability.
Recommendations should be listed based upon the results of the testing (i.e. the summary!). Eligibility and additional recommendations will be discussed at the student’s upcoming Team meeting when all evaluation results are reviewed. A similar statement should be included on the report.
1. Continue to teach STUDENT decoding skills/strategies in order to increase his independent application of these learned skills.
2. STUDENT should receive direct instruction in decoding long vowel words as well as words including consonant digraphs. This should be taught first in isolation, and then, STUDENT should be given the chance to apply learned skills in the context of text at his instructional level.
3. STUDENT should be explicitly taught how to establish sound/symbol relationships of all phonemes in order to improve his phonological awareness skills.
4. Additional recommendations will be made at team meeting.
Testing reports should contain a statement on validity of testing. For example, an evaluator may state, “It is felt that the results of the testing are an accurate measure of current level of academic achievement” if the evaluator believes this test to be a valid measure of performance.
And finally, give yourself some credit! Put your name, qualification(s), and job title on the report along with the date. Evaluation reports should include a tester’s signature.
Oh, and you can breathe now! :)
Testing templates can be very useful as well, and they definitely help.
Use my WIAT-III Template and a YCAT Template from my TPT store!
~ By Miss Rae
Being a Special Educator is similar to choreographing a three-ring circus! The art of juggling should be a required course in Special Education educator prep programs.
From IEP writing to teaching to presenting at IEP meetings to many, many more important tasks, Special Educators must be skilled at varying and many areas of expertise; however, one aspect can be the most difficult to manage: PROGRESS MONITORING
The data is one of the single most paramount competencies of the field of Special Education; thus, data collection is one of the most critical skills a Special Education teacher can possess.
Without evidence, we just have beliefs, and beliefs do not hold up in court (remember IEPs are legal documents).
Data collection, on the other hand, can be annoying and cumbersome. Who wants to interrupt teaching to assess? And don’t we assess these poor kids enough?
As a result, then, assessment should be seamlessly integrated into teaching (and/or daily routines); but how do you do this when your “small groups” have varying IEP goals and objectives?
However, even if I have 10 students with 3 working on comprehension, 3 working on phonics, 2 working on vocabulary, and 2 working on fluency, they are at least all working on the subject area of reading.
So no problem!
There are five facets of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, and word study, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.
As a result, all of the students in your reading groups will have IEP goals that fall within one of the subcategories of reading.
The first step, then, is to identify one assessment tool that can evaluate ALL students in ALL areas of reading.
The solution to all of these issues is employing what I call Reading Rubrics!
You can check them out HERE!
Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and Word Study
Reading Rubrics expand on the tool of a running record.
As students are reading aloud, collect data on the section they read.
Write down the student’s errors AND mark the section the student read. But, first, record the text level of the passage being read aloud.
This will not interrupt the flow of the lesson or the teaching AND it can be done for each student in the reading group without pause.
Later, convert the number of words a student read correctly into a percentage for word reading accuracy. For example, if you wrote down 10 words that were read incorrectly and 30 words were read in total, subtract the total number of words read incorrectly (errors) from the number of running words in the text. So, 30 - 10 = 20. Then, divide the answer (words read correctly) by the total number of running words or words read. So, 20 divided by 30 equals 67 percent.
Word accuracy can help determine a student’s reading level:
Easy Text: 96-100% accuracy
Instructional Text: 90-95% accuracy
Hard Text: below 90% accuracy
Running records, not only provide educators with word reading accuracy, they are also a tool for identifying error patterns. Therefore, take time to analyze the errors a student made when reading words. For example, did a student read the words with /ed/ endings incorrectly?
Analyze a student’s reading thoughts on what sources s/he is utilizing for word reading accuracy.
Is the reader using meaning cues, structural cues, or visual cues?
While a student is reading, use a timer to gain a fluency score for a student. How many words does the student read accurately in one minute?
The Hasbrouck-Tindal oral reading fluency chart is a good tool for grade level fluency standards. The chart correlates oral reading fluency rates of students in grades 1 through 8, as determined by data collected by Jan Hasbrouck and Gerald Tindal to grade level expectations.
Vocabulary and Comprehension
When a student has finished reading a text aloud, quickly assess his/her oral reading comprehension.
Tell me about what you read. What was the setting? Who are the characters? What does this word mean in the text? What is the problem? Why was this a problem for the character? Did the characters try to solve the problem? How?
Note the level of prompting that the teacher provided.
Record the students level of comprehension on both literal and inferential questions.
The answers will enable the teacher to subjectively assess a student’s general understanding of the text.
Here's a quick video on how I use RUNNING RECORDS with my students!
While all of this data will not provide enough for evaluation purposes, Reading Rubrics will act as instructional tools AND data collection tools for progress reporting toward IEP goals!
~ By Miss Rae
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Special Education teachers have been entrusted with two goals for their instruction:
#1 Special Education teachers will target students’ lagging skills to close the achievement gap.
#2 Special Education teachers will provide intervention to facilitate access to grade level skills.
I don’t know about you, but my diploma had my name on it; not Harry Houdini’s! We are not magicians!
So how do we achieve our educator goals while helping our students achieve their learning goals?
Special Education students are considered to be Tier 3 students on the Response to Intervention (RTI) model. Tier 3 is the most intense level. Students with disabilities should receive individualized, intensive intervention in the area of the identified disability in order to accelerate progress toward an ability to independently access grade level standards.
When a student is receiving special education supports, he/she should be receiving explicit direct targeted instruction of lagging skills as well as strategies to help them access the general education curriculum in order to close the achievement gap AND enable Special Education students to gain independence with their learning disability.
So how do we lesson plan for our special education students?
All Special Education instruction should include targeted skill instruction, strategy instruction, and applied practice.
Targeted Skill Instruction
Targeted Skill Instruction means direct and explicit teaching of a student’s lagging skills. This instruction incorporates a variety of research-based strategies and varying teacher to student-centered instruction.
Special Education teachers must directly and explicitly teach the skills that are required for a student to move to the next level of learning. There is a hierarchy to our learning standards. Special Education students’ foundational competencies are often areas of deficit.
For example, if a student is a struggling reader, this portion of the lesson may teach phonics skills for decoding. There may be time spent on decoding words in isolation.
Typically, skill instruction is supported with scientifically-based systematic, multisensory instructional programs for Special Education students.
Special Education students, specifically those diagnosed with a learning disability, learn best with strategies.
Think of strategies as scaffolded supports. You are teaching a trick to a student. This trick enables him/her to access the general education curriculum independently!
Scaffolded supports should enable students to gain greater independence in their learning.
For example, when instructing my students on how to respond to a text-based question, I teach them the RACE strategy. This response strategy helps them articulate their ideas into written form. It also enables them to connect their thinking to the text.
RACE = Restate, Answer, Cite the evidence, Explain the evidence
Students begin by Restating (Race) the question. For this, they learn TTQA (Turn That Question Around). This is another strategy.
Next, students Answer the question (rAce).
After answering the question, students Cite textual evidence that supports their answer (raCe).
Finally, they Explain how this evidence supports their answer (racE).
Strategies like TTQA and RACE provide students with tools for independently accessing academic content.
Begin with the skill, teach the strategy, and then, allow student multiple variations of practice and application of the skill, using the strategy until mastery is achieved.
Decades of research has shown the benefits of inclusion on the educational progress of special education students. There is no denying this!
After direct instruction of a strategy, Special Education students should be allowed independent practice with the strategy within the Special Education setting and/or small group setting. Students should also be provided the opportunity to practice the skill in the general education setting. This should lead toward independent and generalized application of the skill!
And once a Special Education student can independently apply strategies to access the general education curriculum, we have achieved our goal as teachers!
Special education students have to work that much harder than the norm. So as special education teachers, we also have to work that much harder. We not only have to teach our students learning strategies for long-term, independent success, but we also have to simultaneously teach grade level standards and remediate lagging skills to close the gap!
I tell my students they have to work that much harder. And it’s not an excuse. It’s just what it is. You have to work harder to achieve. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It just proves you’re that much stronger. That much braver. And it means that much more when you achieve!
~By Miss Rae
OR the full bundle can be found HERE:
Motivate your students with these FREE WORK HARD! PLAY HARD! LEARN HARD! posters AND use them as conversation starters.