In terms of diagnosing students with learning disabilities and specifically those with dyslexia, the discrepancy model has been used for years as the standard for identifying students with a learning disability. This model is based on the approach of using the child’s IQ versus school performance to determine whether the child is eligible for special education services. So theoretically, the special education staff will wait until this gap gets wider and wider (or waiting for the student to fail) before really making any move toward placing the child in special education and receiving special services. By the time a student is sufficiently behind his or her peers, he or she could be in high school and ready to drop out. This model is based on “waiting for the student to fail” approach, meaning–let’s use some interventions and see if they work, but for the most part, when the student hits rock bottom, then we’ll label him or her learning disabled and eligible for special education services.
The Response to Intervention and Instruction (RTII) model is based on preventing student failure and placing students in levels or tiers of instruction based on student needs. The tiers represent different types of interventions or the degree of intensity of instruction. Tier 1 is the regular classroom environment, Tier 2 is accommodations and differentiated instruction techniques that are provided in the regular classroom by the regular education teacher. Usually these are small groups within the larger classroom. And Tier 3 is for a small population of students–those who need specific, targeted instruction–usually outside the classroom environment. The key ingredient is flexible grouping–it’s not a life sentence, but supported by continual progress monitoring to see if students have been remediated or need more supports. Only after all level of supports have been exhausted will a student be tested for a general learning disability and receive special education services (i.e. IEP).
According to amendments to the IDEA, here are the new federal mandates for identifying special education students:
IDEA 2004 and final regulations state that:
1. States must not require use of significant discrepancy as part of determination of a SLD (Specific Learning Disability.)
2. States must permit the use of a process based on a child’s response to scientifically based intervention as part of determination of a SLD.
3. States may permit the use of other alternative research-based procedures to determine whether a child has a SLD.
Notice the wording–must not require. This means that there are plenty of states out there that are permitted to use the discrepancy model, even though they are not “required” to. Check out this PDF file to see how your state stands on diagnosing students with disabilities. ** Just a note LEA refers to Local Educational Agencies (or school districts).