Many of you may have had or are at risk of having your school district deny your child special education because they didn’t meet the “severe discrepancy” eligibility formula.
This formula is applied when determining if a child is eligible for special education and related services as having a Specific Learning Disability.
This decision is based upon finding that there is a severe discrepancy between ability and achievement in basic reading skills, reading comprehension, oral expression, listening comprehension, math calculation, math problem solving, written expression, or reading fluency.
Just because a child does not satisfy the discrepancy criteria, it doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t need special education services to avoid failure.
When asked if a child with a learning disability will likely fall far enough behind to eventually be eligible for services, in many cases it can be predicted with virtual certainty that a child will eventually fall far enough behind to qualify for special education.
It is a lot like a doctor diagnosing a disease in the early stages and doing nothing because the patient has no pain and can still function. There are neurobiological factors that make children at risk for disability. Early intervention can address the neural systems that are malleable in ages 0-7 and the predictable disability can often be prevented by exposing the child to appropriately differentiated instructional programs. Intervention can be provided when a neurological pattern is detected that predicts the development of a disability and can change the brain so that the predicted disability is minimized or may not ever manifest!
In Kindergarten, if a child has a weakness in processing the phonological component of language, they will have difficulty learning how to read. Yet school districts deny eligibility using the discrepancy model and wait until the child falls so far behind that they begin to fail.
An educational process that hides behind an inflexible formula, supersedes the IEP team’s duty to meet the unique needs of the child and predetermines the eligibility decision, serving to harm our most vulnerable children. Best practices promote preventing need, not postponing help the student needs to learn by requiring the student to cross the point of failure.
The severe discrepancy formula has been universally criticized as a “wait to fail model” that is “irrational and indefensible” and has been referred to by the Office of Special Education Programs in the Clinton administration as “immoral” and by an Assistant Secretary of Education in the Bush administration as “not a valid means of identifying individuals with LD.”
Such criticism should indicate that the formula, even though it remains legal, should be used with caution.
There have been many attempts to remove the discrepancy approach from the regulations altogether, but these attempts continue to be thwarted by the lobbying efforts of states that have learned to rely on its convenience for school districts to use as a means to deny children an IEP, in spite of the fact that it was neither “valid” nor “reliable.”
School Districts use the inflexible application of the discrepancy formula to deny special education to children, however, IDEA employs further conditions. 34 C.F.R. §300.306(c)(1)(i) states that “In interpreting evaluation data… each public agency must draw upon information from a variety of sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, parent input, and teacher recommendations.” In other words, the discrepancy formula is intended as only one source of information and not solely determined by that source.
The attitude of the Federal Government toward the use of the discrepancy formula can be inferred from the language in 34 CFR §300.307 where it is stated that criteria adopted by the State to identify children with Specific Learning Disabilities must also permit the use of a process based on a response to intervention, research-based procedures, and must not limit eligibility to the use of the severe discrepancy model only.
If you believe your child has a learning disability and has been denied special education based on the discrepancy model, the first step is to obtain an Independent Educational Evaluation by a reputable provider. You can appeal the LEA decision to perturbate the “wait and fail” model upon your child. Don’t allow your local school district to steal your child’s early intervention window, that can never be recovered.
Schedule a time to meet with me to discuss your child’s situation. Click here to calendar a 30-minute complimentary call.
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