Specific Learning Disability

specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that adversely affect the student’s educational performance, including conditions referred to, or previously referred to, as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.  A specific learning disability:

  • Manifests itself when the student does not achieve adequately for the student’s age or to meet state approved grade level standards in one or more of the following areas, when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the student’s age or state approved grade level standards:
    • Reading disability, which is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin and has a continuum of severity.  It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.  A reading disability may be due to difficulties in:
      • Basic reading skills;
      • Reading fluency skills; and
      • Reading comprehension.
    • Written expression disability is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin and has a continuum of severity.  Written expression is a complex domain that requires the integration of oral language, written language, cognition, and motor skills.
    • Math disability is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin and has a continuum of severity.  The ability to perform mathematical computations and reasoning requires multiple core intellectual processes.  A math disability may be due to difficulties in:
      • Math calculation; and
      • Math problem solving
    • Oral expression disability is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin and has a continuum of severity.  It is characterized by deficits in using expressive language processes to mediate learning of reading, writing, spelling, or math skills.
    • Listening comprehension disability is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin and has a continuum of severity.  It is characterized by difficulties in using receptive language processes to mediate learning of reading, writing, spelling, or math skills.
  • Can be evidenced through:
    • Insufficient progress to meet age or state approved grade level standards in one or more areas identified when using a process based on the student’s response to scientific research based intervention: or
    • A pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, state approved grade level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability.  The multidisciplinary team is prohibited from using a severe discrepancy between academic achievement and global intellectual functioning to meet this requirement; and
  • Exclusionary Factors: SLD does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of any of the following:
    • A visual, hearing, or motor disability;
    • An intellectual disability;
    • An emotional disability;
    • Cultural factors;
    • Environmental or economic disadvantage;
    • Limited English proficiency; or
    • Lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math evidenced by:
      • Data demonstrating that prior to, or part of the referral process, the student was provided appropriate instruction in general education settings, delivered by qualified personnel; and
      • Data based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting formal assessment of student progress during instruction, which was provided to the student’s parents.
  • The following are the assessment criteria for an SLD evaluation, according to Indiana Article 7:
    • An assessment of current academic achievement
    • An observation of the student in the student’s learning environment, including the general classroom setting, to document the student’s academic performance and behavior in the areas of difficulty
    • Available medical information that is educationally relevant
    • A social and developmental history that may include, but is not limited to, the following:  communication, skills, social interaction skills, responses to sensory experiences, relevant family and environmental information, patterns of emotional adjustment, unusual or atypical behaviors
    • An assessment of progress in the general education curriculum that includes and analysis of any interventions used to address the academic concerns leading to the referral
  • Other assessments and information, collected prior to referral or during educational evaluation may pertain to:
    • difficulties in reading:
      • decoding;
      • phonological awareness;
      • phonological memory;
      • phonological processing;
      • orthographic processing;
      • reading fluency (rate and accuracy); and
      • reading comprehension;
    • difficulties in written expression:
      • handwriting, which encompasses:
        • fine motor skills;
        • visual-motor coordination;
        • visual and working memory; and
        • phonological and orthographic processing;
      • spelling, which encompasses:
        • phonological and orthographic processing; and
        • written spelling ability;
      • composition, which encompasses:
        • oral language;
        • reading ability;
        • attention; and
        • memory;
    • difficulties in math:
      • nonverbal problem solving;
      • working memory;
      • long term memory;
      • processing speed; and
      • attention.

Identification and eligibility for special education is determined by the case conference committee using the required assessment components included in the multidisciplinary team evaluation (M-Team).  This includes available medical information that is educationally relevant.  See “Required Assessment Components for Eligibility Areas.

The General Education Intervention process must be implemented appropriately prior to determining eligibility for a specific learning disability.  This includes using research-based interventions and monitoring student progress using systematic data collection.

According to state law, a written M-Team Report for Determining a Specific Learning Disability must be included as part of the case conference committee’s discussion. 


For the purposes of evaluations for a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) within the South Bend Community School Corporation, the multi-disciplinary teams will use the Cattell-Horn Carroll theory of cognitive processing, as outlined in the Essentials of Cross Battery Assessment: Third Edition, (Dawn P. Flanagan, Samuel O. Ortiz, and Vincent Alfonso, John Wiley & Sons).   The seven areas of cognitive processing which could be evaluated when assessing for a SLD include:  crystallized intelligence, short term memory, long term storage/retrieval, auditory processing, processing speed, visual processing, and fluid reasoning.

The first step in conducting an SLD evaluation is to complete a standardized achievement test (e.g. K-TEA-II, Woodcock-Johnson-III), assessing each area in which there are reported academic difficulties.  Scores within the Average range (standard scores 85-115) reflect a student who is functioning typically for his/her age, thus, no further assessment is necessary in the areas of cognitive processing. 

When a normative deficit (scores below SS of 85) is noted in academic areas, further assessment in the appropriate cognitive processing areas is warranted.  The following is a summary of the cognitive areas found to be critical to the development of each academic area.


  • Areas found to be very important to reading:
    • Crystallized Intelligence
    • Short Term Memory
    • Auditory Processing
    • Long-Term Storage & Retrieval
    • Processing Speed


  • Areas found to be very important to writing:
    • Crystallized Intelligence
    • Short Term Memory
    • Auditory Processing
    • Long Term Storage & Retrieval
    • Processing Speed


  • Areas found to be very important to math:
    • Fluid Reasoning
    • Crystallized Intelligence
    • Short Term Memory
    • Processing Speed

If, through the assessment of relevant cognitive processing areas, the student is found to have processing deficits in one or more areas, (and these areas are important in the development of skills in the area of  academic weakness), a specific learning disability may be present.  However, the student must also demonstrate an “otherwise normal ability profile” and the difficulties must not be due to any of the exclusionary factors (listed above).  See Essentials of Cross Battery Assessment: Third Edition, (Dawn P. Flanagan, Samuel O. Ortiz, and Vincent Alfonso, John Wiley & Sons) for further information.

Below is a general explanation of each of the seven broad abilities.


  1. Crystallized Intelligence (acquired knowledge of a culture and the effective application of that knowledge; includes
    • Language Development, i.e., the development or understanding of words, sentences and passages, in spoken native language skills,
    • Lexical Knowledge, i.e., extent of vocabulary in terms of correct word meanings;
    • Listening Ability, i.e., ability to listen and comprehend oral language;
    • General Information, i.e., range of general knowledge, and
    • Information about Culture, i.e., range of knowledge about music, art, etc.
  • Crystallized intelligence is considered to be crucial at all ages, especially when learning to read or to understand math concepts.
  1. Short-Term Memory: (the ability to apprehend and hold information in immediate awareness and then use it within a few seconds), includes
    • Memory Span, i.e., ability to attend to and immediately recall temporally ordered elements in the correct order after a single presentation;
    • Working Memory; i.e., ability to temporarily store and perform a set of cognitive operations on information that requires divided attention and the management of limited capacity of short-term memory.
  • Memory Span is considered to be important for the development of Reading, Math and Writing skills.
  1. Long-Term Storage and Retrieval: (the ability to store information, e.g., ideas, concepts, items or names, in long-term memory and to fluently retrieve it later through association;
    • Ideational Fluency; i.e., ability to rapidly produce a series of ideas, words, or phrases related to a specific condition or object;
    • Naming Facility; i.e., ability to rapidly produce names for concepts; and
    • Free Recall Memory; i.e., the ability to recall as many unrelated items as possible, in any order, after a large collection of items is presented, and
    • Meaningful Memory, i.e., ability to recall a set of items where there is a meaningful relation between items or the items create a meaningful story or connected discourse.
  • Naming facility is known to be very important during early elementary years in learning to read and in written expression. Associative memory may be somewhat important during select years, e.g., age 6.
  1. Auditory Processing: (the ability to perceive, analyze, and synthesize patterns among auditory stimuli; includes
    • Phonetic Coding (analysis;) ability to process speech sound, as in identifying, isolating and analyzing sounds;
    • Phonetic Coding (synthesis); ability to process speech sounds, as in identifying, isolating, and blending or synthesizing sounds; and
    • Speech/General Sound Discrimination; the ability to detect differences in speech sounds under conditions of little distraction or distortion.
  • Phonetic Coding (connecting letter names to sounds in print in the correct sequence) is considered to be crucial to learning to read, during the early elementary years. It is also important to basic Writing skills and Written Expression, especially before age 11.
  1. Processing Speed: (the ability to fluently perform cognitive tasks automatically, especially when under pressure to quickly combine disconnected, vague or partially obscured visual stimuli or patterns into a meaningful whole, without knowing in advance what the pattern is); Includes
    • Perceptual Speed; i.e., ability to rapidly perform tests that are relatively easy or that require very simple decisions; and
    • Mental Comparison Speed, i.e., reaction time when the stimuli must be compared for a particular attribute.
  • Perceptual speed abilities are important during all school years, particularly the elementary school years.
  1. Visual Processing: (the ability to generate, perceive, analyze, synthesize, manipulate, transform and think with visual patterns and stimuli; includes
    • Spatial Relations, i.e., the ability to rapidly perceive and manipulate visual patterns or to maintain orientation with respect to objects in space;
    • Visualization, i.e., ability to mentally manipulate objects or visual patterns and to “see” how they would appear under altered conditions; and
    • Visual Memory, i.e., the ability to form and store a mental representation or image from a visual stimulus and then recognize or recall it later.
  • Visual processing is considered to be crucial to understanding higher level math concepts, such as geometry and calculus. However, this ability is not considered crucial to learning Reading or basic Math skills.
  1. Fluid Reasoning (mental operations performed when faced with a novel task that cannot be performed automatically); includes;
    • Induction, i.e., the ability to discover the underlying characteristic that governs a problem or set of materials;
    • General Sequential Reasoning, i.e., deduction, the ability to start with stated rules, premises or conditions and to engage in one or more steps to reach a solution to the problem;
    • Quantitative Reasoning, i.e., ability to inductively and deductively reason with concepts involving mathematical relations and properties.

Fluid reasoning (particularly inductive and general sequential reasoning) is consistently important in learning Math concepts at all ages, and plays a moderate role in reading comprehension.

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