• Richard Baer, Ph.D.

A Brief Discussion of Confusion in Learning Disabilities Determination

Richard Baer, Ph.D.

Effective Instructional Materials & Systems


Sam Kirk coined the term learning disability (LD) and used it to refer to people with normal intelligence who could not read. They had a severe discrepancy (SD) between ability and achievement. The original federal special education regulations passed in the seventies required a SD to be identified to qualify a student for special education. This all changed in 2004 when congress mandated that students could be identified as LD via, SD, response to intervention (RTI), or other scientific methods that often include patterns of strengths and weaknesses.


Multiple methods for determining LD have been a source of much confusion for parents seeking LD determinations. A student may or may not be LD depending on the school district they reside in, the determination model used by the district, and even the particular staff that perform the evaluation. There are important issues related to each method of LD determination that are beyond the scope of this article.


Given the confusion surrounding LD determination what are families to do?

  • Be aware that school districts use different methods to identify LD.

  • Ask the district what method(s) they have chosen and why? Keep asking questions until you understand what they are doing and why that is better than the alternatives. The district has an obligation to explain these things to you.

See outside help. Some resources include:

For an expanded discussion of confusion in LD determination, click here.

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