Criteria for Specific Learning Disability


Pasadena ISD has adopted the Modern Operational Definition and the “Dual Discrepancy/Consistency Model” of SLD (both of which are featured in Flanagan, D.P., Ortiz, S.O., & Alfonso, V.C. (2013) Essentials of Cross-Battery Assessment 3rd edition, Wiley and Sons).  This model is widely accepted as a best practice in the identification of SLD and is based on a large amount of literature and research (e.g., Kavale & Forness, 2000; Kavale et al., 2009; Berninger, 2001; Feifer, 2012; Fletcher-Janzen & et al., 2001; Geary, Hoard, & Bailey, 2001; Hale & Fiorello, 2004; Hale et al., 2011; McClosky et al., 2001; Naglieri, 2011; Reynolds & Schwartz, 2009; Siegal, 1999; Stanovich, 1999; Vellutino, Scanlon, & Lyon, 2000).  This is the model we are using to determine if a student is eligible for special education services with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD).

There are six (6) diagnostic markers for SLD. Each one of the following markers needs to be present to make a SLD eligibility determination.

  1.  A significant academic impairment.  The student needs to have significant difficulties in an academic area of eligibility based on multiple sources.  Tests are important, but other reliable sources of data are necessary (more than grades, STAAR, etc).  Academic impairment is relative to grade level expectations and abilities.  If the evaluation specialist’s measures are “borderline”, more data is helpful to determine this impairment.  The referral concern should be specific to adequately assess the specific area of difficulty.
  2. A significant cognitive impairment.  According to IDEA, SLD is defined as, “A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes” (300.8(c)(10)(i).  According to the CHC Theory of Human Cognitive Abilities, there are seven (7) broad cognitive areas (Gs):  Fluid Reasoning, Crystallized Intelligence, Short-Term Memory, Long-Term Retrieval, Visual Processing, Auditory Processing, and Processing Speed.  Results are based on converging data sources and supported by “real-world” data and information.
  3. Generally average ability to think and reason.  Individuals with SLD are of average or better overall cognitive ability, but have a “specific” area of disability.  SLD is not an appropriate eligibility for those students who have learning difficulties for reasons other than specific cognitive dysfunction.  Global Learning Deficit has never been an eligibility category.  A student with SLD should be able to perform academically at a level close to his/her typically achieving peers when provided with individualized instruction, as well as appropriate accommodations and instructional modifications.  Additionally, student with SLD should possess the ability to learn compensatory strategies and apply them independently, which often requires higher-level thinking and reasoning.  Specific software tools are utilized for the process of determining this marker.  Overall, it must be determined that the student has a generally average ability to think and reason.  This also could be evidenced by typical performance in areas outside of those under consideration for SLD.
  4. Consistency between academic and cognitive impairments.  This is where the determination is made that the cognitive impairment (marker #2) is the likely primary cause of the academic impairment (marker #1).  For example, Ga (phonetic coding) links to a disability in Basic Reading Skills, but not Math Calculation.

    However, a deficit in Auditory Processing could be a likely cause of impairment in Basic Reading Skills, as research and data strongly support a linkage between those two areas.  This consistency would be further supported by classroom data and evidence pointing towards this as the primary cause. 

  5. The cognitive impairment is domain-specific.  SLD is a vertical problem, not a horizontal one.  The cognitive impairment (marker #2) is different from the other cognitive areas, and stands out.  We must determine whether the cognitive impairment is significantly different from the intact abilities and if the degree of the difference is rare and unusual.
  6. Evidence of unexpected underachievement.  The area of academic impairment is significantly different from what would be expected considering the overall cognitive ability of the student.


Role of the Evaluation Team

  • Diagnostician/LSSP:  trained to interpret test results.  While tests provide a lot of necessary information, they are not the only factor in determining eligibility.  While this information is “pure” and “reliable”, it is obtained in short bursts, and often difficult to generalize to “real world” information.
  • Teachers:  provide “ecological” data and information not gained from standardized measures.  Teachers provide referral and re-evaluation information to the diagnostician/LSSP that is specific and reliable in order to effectively provide testing that matches the concern.