The MDE unleashes the 9th Percentile on the definition of a “Specific Learning Disability”

Can you answer the following question?  What are 6 data points at or below the 9th percentile on a Curriculum Based Measurement (“CBM”)?  Don’t know the answer?  Count yourself among the tens-of-thousands of Michigan parents with a child at risk or already identified with a specific learning disability (“SLD”); along with our State’s woefully ill-prepared General/Special education teachers.  And welcome to the Michigan Department of Education’s “Criteria for Determining the Existence of a Specific Learning Disability; unleashed on May 14, 2010, without the State Board of Education’s review.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) requires state educational agencies to establish the criteria to be followed to determine the existence of a SLD and publicize the information on or before September 1, 2010.  The MDE’s “criteria” has extrapolated convoluted verbiage from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA 2004”).  Their “suggested parameters for establishing an academic skill deficit” includes; the child’s inability to achieve adequately or make sufficient progress to meet age or State-approved grade-level standards. The child can exhibit a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, and or achievement, relative to age, and State-approved standards.

BUT, the only glaring guidance this document provides is that a child must be at or below the 9th percentile on a norm-referenced achievement test, or on those 6 pesky data points on a CBM.  Requiring a student to be at or below the 9th percentile is the bottom of low achievement.  This requirement is nowhere to be found in IDEA 2004 or in guidance from the USDOE, Office of Special Education Programs and Services.

Michigan has 236,000 K-12 students identified with a disability and 35% identified with a SLD.

Presently, the 82,000 students identified with a SLD have been found eligible primarily through a decades-old “discrepancy model.”  A child is not achieving commensurate with his/her IQ.   Criticism of this model remains that many students are left in education limbo until old enough (typically 4th grade) and well below grade level in academics.  Still, at least this educational safety net exists.

Does the MDE think there is a difference between a discrepancy model and waiting for children to fall to the 9th percentile; rock bottom of low achievement?  “Identification of LDs based solely on low achievement essentially equates LDs with low achievement….The LD construct is to identify a unique group of low achievers whose underachievement is unexpected…” (Learning Disabilities from Identification to Intervention; Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, Barnes, 2007)

IDEA 2004 defines a specific learning disability “as a disorder of one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken, or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and development aphasia.”

The National Center for Learning Disabilities along with 50 years of published research defines learning disabilities as neurologically based life-long disorders that require early identification and intervention.  The Bad News for students with a SLD is that 24% of them drop out of high school versus 9.4% of students in the general population. (USDOE, NCES, 2005)

Research and current data (MEAP, NAEP, and MME-ACT) tells us that Michigan students with a SLD are not reaching their potential.  Less than highly qualified special education teachers; along with diluted implementation of research based methodologies, assistive technology and virtually no Universal Design for Learning leave these students in an educational lurch. Fewer than 25% are passing the MME-ACT in their 11th grade school year.  The MDE’s answer is to give cash-strapped districts the impetus not to identify them at all.  Instead, let them fall through the educational cracks; into the dropout and correctional system abyss.

MDE’s “criteria” for identifying students with SLD is their latest assault on an underperforming, underfunded cesspool of special education rules, guidance and policy.  Devastatingly, while a large majority of students with a SLD are not prepared to enter post-secondary education or the global work force…they know how to spell UNEMPLOYABLE and UNEMPLOYED.   If you have a child at risk or identified with a SLD, use your voice and pen.   Demand more from Michigan and the MDE, or put your child on a bus, train or plane, and send him/her to a state that prides itself on educating ALL of its students.

3 thoughts on “The MDE unleashes the 9th Percentile on the definition of a “Specific Learning Disability””

  1. I believe SLD is the ultimate mistake in the nexus of LD, student achievement, misdiagnosis and evasion.
    It was our experience that this inappropriate wastebasket term delayed our high functioning son’s ASD diagnosis, setting him up for inappropriate treatments and expectations, and cost us tens of thousands of dollars to remediate, which we are still doing.
    However, I believe that the way to catch this is through good ABA practice, which you don’t like, but is coming down the pike.

    1. Maria- I am not against ABA. I have no idea why you would think this to be the case. As an educational advocate I suggest ABA therapy for many children and not only those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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