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U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

Procedures for Evaluating Children With Specific Learning Disabilities

Section 300.307(a) requires that States adopt criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability. Under the final regulations, States may not require that LEAs use criteria based on a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability. The final regulations also require that criteria adopted by States permit the use of a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention. States are also permitted to use other alternative procedures to determine if a child has a specific learning disability.

Before determining that a child has a specific learning disability, Sec. 300.309(b) requires that the evaluation team consider data that demonstrate that prior to, or as part of the referral process, the child received appropriate instruction in regular education settings and that data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement during instruction was provided to the child's parents. If the child has not made adequate progress under these conditions after an appropriate period of time, the final regulations further require that the public agency refer the child for an evaluation to determine if special education and related services are needed. Under the final regulations, the child's parents and the team of qualified professionals, described in Sec. 300.306(a)(1), are permitted to extend the evaluation timelines described in Sec. Sec. 300.301 through 300.303 by mutual written agreement.

If the estimated number of initial evaluations each year is 1.7 million and the percentage of evaluations involving children with specific learning disabilities is equivalent to the percentage of all children served under Part B of the Act with specific learning disabilities, then the final regulations will affect approximately 816,000 evaluations each year. Depending on the criteria adopted by their States pursuant to Sec. 300.307(a), public agencies could realize savings under the final regulations by reducing the amount of a school psychologist's time involved in conducting cognitive assessments that would have been needed to document an IQ discrepancy. However, these savings could be offset by increased costs associated with documenting student achievement through regular formal assessments of their progress, as required under Sec. 300.309(b).

Although the cost of evaluating children suspected of having specific learning disabilities might be affected by the final regulations, the Department expects that the most significant benefits of the changes will be achieved through improved identification of children suspected of having specific learning disabilities. By requiring that States permit alternatives to an IQ-discrepancy criterion, the final regulations facilitate more appropriate and timely identification of children with specific learning disabilities, so that they can benefit from research-based interventions that have been shown to produce better achievement and behavioral outcomes.

The final regulations may impose additional costs on small public agencies that currently lack capacity to conduct repeated assessments of achievement during instruction and provide parents with documentation of the formal assessments of their child's progress. These costs are likely to be offset by reduced need for psychologists to administer intellectual assessments. To the extent that small districts may not employ school psychologists, the revised criteria may alleviate testing burdens felt disproportionately by small districts under an IQ discrepancy evaluation model.