When a student is struggling in school, an evaluation can be performed so that the cause for the struggles can be uncovered.
So, here is what happens when a school district (or a lot of school trained diagnosticians working outside the districts) completes an evaluation. First, the student’s processing skills are assessed. In order to learn, there are several areas of processing that need to be in tact in order for the learning to be successful. The 7 main areas assessed include:
Problem Solving Skills
Short Term Memory
Long Term Memory
Then, the student’s academic areas are assessed which include:
Basic Reading Skills (word recognition/decoding)
In a very simple explanation, the goal is to find a processing deficit that links to an academic deficit because that is what you call a learning disability. So, if the student shows a deficit in Short Term Memory and a deficit in Reading Comprehension, it can be said that the weak short term memory is the cause for the weakness in comprehension. The student is given the label of a learning disability in the area of reading comprehension. They now qualify for Special Education services….end of story.
While that may make some sense and it is how federal law defines how a learning disability is diagnosed, it just seems like something is missing.
When we do an evaluation, our goal is to go one step further. Our goal is to find out WHY. Why does the student have a weakness in short term memory? There are so many reasons why a student can demonstrate a deficit in short term memory. The most obvious is attention and focus. If a student struggles with attention then they will often not hear what was just said and will often need things repeated. Attention issue may also explain the weaker reading comprehension skills. Placing the student in Special Education is not the solution if the student has attention issues…..it won’t make that go away.
Maybe this student really just has weak short term memory. It happens. So, why not try to fix it? By improving short term memory, we can improve reading comprehension, and avoid being placed in Special Education. One program that has been shown to improve short term memory is Interactive Metronome Therapy. There are others…….but all of this to say, there is so much more to consider then if a student fits in the “learning disability” box that leads to placement in Special Education.
Very recently, we had a 5th grade student that came in for testing because she was not passing the STAAR tests and was at risk for being held back. The school wanted to test for Special Education, but the parents wanted to get an outside evaluation instead. The results of the evaluation showed a very severe visual processing disorder. This student was referred to an optometrist who specializes in learning related vision issues and will get the appropriate treatment with academic progress to follow. However, her testing profile fit the district’s definition of a learning disability in the are of math. Had the school done testing, she would have been diagnosed with this learning disability and put in Special Education which would have never addressed the REAL issue!
Let us help you not just understand why your student is struggling, but what you can do about fixing it.