***Post Written by Scott McGuire, Elections Chair for WSPA***
Has anybody every asked you, as a school psychologist, why a student with a low average IQ who benefits from intensive academic support, would not qualify as a student with a learning disability even if their academic scores were lower than a student who does qualify for services but needs less help? What do you tell them? How do you feel about your answer?
All states have their own rules and regulations regarding special education definitions and eligibility criteria, especially when it comes to determining a specific learning disability (SLD). I am thankful for the flexibility we have here in Wyoming when it comes to SPED evaluations and re-evaluations. However, our state’s chapter 7 rules and regulations have not changed since 2010, while the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition), which mental health professional use to diagnosis psychiatric conditions, was updated 2012. The new DSM-5 edition made changes to their definition of a learning disability, most notable with the elimination of the IQ-achievement discrepancy requirement. If we continue to follow old practices regarding SLD eligibility, I feel we are on shaky ethical and legal ground.
As a school psychology profession, our ethics state that we use current assessment techniques and should not rely on a single test score or method of measurement when coming to a diagnostic conclusion. However, test scores are the tools we use and eligibility criteria is our business focus. So how can we justify denying services to some students who clearly struggle and need services while at the same time providing services to other students who may need less support based on an outdated criteria requirement?
I believe the solution is to treat all students on even bases. Start by comparing each student’s academic abilities with those of a typical student. The discrepancy should not be between their own ability (IQ) and their own academic skills but rather their academic skills compared to a typical student’s skills (norm score 100). Based on a convergences of evidence, is there enough information in your evaluation to determine a disability and support the benefit from special education services.
Based on a review of the student’s records, along with the additional information that you have found through your evaluation, does the student achieve adequately to meet state standards? If the student does not, then is there an environmental or medical reason for the under achievement? Given the focus on core instruction and general education interventions these factors are usually addressed and most all of the students referred can rule out those factors. Is the academic deficit large enough to be considered a disability? In our state the difference needs to be -22 or more points to be considered a disability. If so then present your findings to the IEP team at the MDT meeting and ask the IEP team to support or refute the determination. Doesn’t it makes sense to help the students who need help the most?