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Evaluation of Learning Disability (LD) Eligibility


LEAs may choose to use an RtI process as one of a variety of measures used in evaluating LD eligibility. The use of RtI in determining LD eligibility was included in the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 due to concerns with models of identification of LD that use IQ tests. Additional information regarding the use of RtI in determining LD eligibility is available in a question and answer format from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

Appropriate instruction:

As part of an evaluation of LD eligibility, a multidisciplinary team must determine that the student fails to achieve adequately when provided appropriate instruction by highly qualified teachers. A school may determine that appropriate instruction was provided to a student in the general education setting by reviewing curriculum and grade-level student performance by class/subject area. This is typically accomplished through a school improvement program that uses a grade-level or campus-level progress monitoring system.

RtI is a process used by schools to target appropriate research-based interventions based on a student’s needs, monitor student progress, and ensure effective instruction in the general education setting. The RtI process can provide data that demonstrates an individual child has received appropriate instruction by ensuring that the vast majority of students were able to master instructional objectives.

In determining whether a child was provided appropriate instruction, schools should consider primary language, limited English proficiency, environmental and cultural factors, as well as whether a child has had frequent moves and/or absences that may have limited the child’s access to the curriculum. These factors should be excluded as the primary cause of a child’s failure to achieve and/or make sufficient academic progress in determining LD eligibility. Students showing reasonable progress in response to research-based instructional strategies should not be determined to have an LD even though they may show deficits on specific norm-referenced achievement tests.

Failure to achieve:

Failure to achieve adequately for a student’s age or meet State-approved grade-level standards may be determined by measures such as in-class tests scores, grade average over time (e.g. six weeks), statewide assessment scores, standardized achievement test scores, criterion-reference measures, and/or a Response to Intervention (RtI) process. A student’s failure to pass the statewide assessment (e.g. Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or TAKS) should not automatically result in a learning disability referral and/or determination. The determination of a learning disability should include a variety of information sources and measures and should not be based on a single measure.

Repeated assessments:

The multidisciplinary team must also consider documentation of repeated assessments in determining LD eligibility. Data-based documentation of repeated assessments may include response to intervention progress monitoring results, in-class tests based on state standards (the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS), benchmark assessment, criterion-referenced measures or other regularly administered assessments. Data from repeated assessment results used in the LD eligibility process should typically have been administered at evenly-spaced intervals, such as once per week, over a reasonable period of time. A reasonable period of time may typically fall within a 4 to 8 week period, six weeks being the average. Schools are not limited to such a time frame and should follow the requirements of the particular instruction program or assessment process in use.

Sufficient progress when provided RtI:

Determining whether a student makes sufficient progress when provided RtI will depend on the particular criteria of the scientific, research-based interventions. While schools are encouraged to follow a timeline specific to the RtI process, a school should consider alternative actions when a child fails to respond to an increasing intensity of instruction and interventions. Schools have an obligation to ensure that evaluations of children suspected of having a disability are not delayed or denied because of implementation of an RtI strategy.

If a parent requests, either in writing or verbally, that a child be evaluated for special education services, a school must have a meeting with the parent to discuss the referral. If the school agrees with the parent that the child may be a child who is eligible for special education services, the school will obtain informed written consent from the parent and then evaluate the child. If a school declines the parent’s request for an evaluation, the LEA must issue a prior written notice as required by federal law.

A RtI process does not replace the need for a comprehensive evaluation using a variety of data sources. A school should inform parents when a student is not making progress in the general education setting. If the child is not making progress in the general education setting and demonstrates lack of sufficient response to intervention(s) after an appropriate period of time (see above for discussion of RTI process), the school should request parental consent to evaluate a child suspected of having a learning disability.

The definition of “scientific, research-based” is in federal law at 20 USC, §7801(37). Local school districts are in the best position to determine interventions that qualify as meeting the definition of “scientific, research-based."

Pattern of strengths and weaknesses:

Schools may determine a pattern of strengths and weaknesses by evaluating specific areas of cognitive function, academic achievement or both and comparing those results against each other or in contrast to other measures of student performance.

This process may include significant discrepancies between intellectual ability and achievement. However, a discrepancy cannot be the sole determinant for specific learning disability identification. If a discrepancy is included in the identification process, it should be based on a standard regression procedure and not simple difference procedures. Current research fails to support the validity of simple difference procedures in determining the existence of a learning disability. Evaluation instrument manuals typically provide information specific to identifying a significant discrepancy between intellectual ability and academic achievement.

In conducting an evaluation, schools are encouraged to include criterion-referenced or curriculum-based measures to more accurately identify patterns of strengths and weaknesses and link eligibility determinations to instruction.

In evaluating specific areas of cognitive functioning to determine a pattern of strengths and weaknesses, schools must consider the federal definition of LD as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language” (34 CFR §300.8(c)(10). An identified pattern of strengths and weaknesses should be linked to the failure to achieve adequately as described above when used as a determination of LD. Students whose classroom achievement indicates a pervasive weakness that does not constitute a pattern of strengths and weaknesses should not be determined to have a LD. Students who meet the criteria as having mental retardation should not be determined to have a LD.

Professional Judgment:

The determination of LD must be made through the use of professional judgment, including consideration of multiple information/data sources to support the eligibility determination. Information/data sources may include statewide assessment results, formal evaluation test scores (IQ; achievement; cognitive function/processing), RtI progress monitoring data, informal data (e.g. rating scales, student work samples, interviews, parent input) and anecdotal reports. Such information/data sources must include an observation of the child in the child’s learning environment as related to the area of LD


In conducting a reevaluation for LD eligibility, schools should continue to use a variety of data sources, possibly including an RtI process. During the reevaluation process, schools are encouraged to: 1) use caution in determining that a child is no longer eligible for special education services; 2) carefully consider the child’s response to removal of such supports; and 3) examine whether the special education instruction has been appropriate and, if so, whether such evidence argues for a continuation of LD eligibility. A major consideration in the reevaluation process should be the student’s ability to meet the instructional demands of grade-level standards without special education and related services.

Written documentation:

Written reports of LD eligibility should include: 1) the basis for making the determination; 2) relevant behavior and medical findings, if any, and; 3) whether the child fails to achieve adequately and does not make sufficient academic progress or exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Any data collected as a result of RtI as well as the instructional strategies implemented should be incorporated in the report. The report should also include documentation that the child’s parents were notified of: 1) the school policies regarding performance data collected and general education services provided; 2) strategies for increasing the child’s rate of learning, and; 3) the parent’s right to request an evaluation.

State Resources

National Resources

Division of Federal and State Education Policy

1701 North Congress Avenue | Austin, Texas 78701-1494

Telephone: 512.463.9414 | Fax: 512.463.9560


Page last modified on 1/30/2013 01:03:16 PM.