Child Study Team (CST) and private practice professionals who are tasked with determining the presence of a specific learning disability (SLD) have acknowledged a growing awareness that limitations of widely used achievement batteries pose an obstacle to accurately identifying the presence of a SLD.
Current achievement test batteries do not adequately mirror the core curriculum used in the classroom. As a result, students who are evaluated to determine eligibility may test out in the Average range despite having significant functional problems in the classroom. For example, students may earn Average range scores on the Pseudoword Decoding subtest of the WIAT-111 but have major problems in decoding. Similarly, that same student may perform in an Average range on the Oral Reading Fluency subtest, but exhibit significant problems with fluency in the classroom.
It is important to remember that the major test batteries offer a sample of academic skills for assessment. When the test material is easier than the core curriculum students are tasked to master, they may be deemed ineligible for support services because of their Average or Above Average range scores. Given this knowledge, professionals at school and even privately may wish to consider testing that is more geared to the curriculum. Moreover, following the general principle of amassing multiple data sources, professionals should consider that functional data (i.e. curriculum-based assessment) from the classroom teacher or parent that is different from the testing data should be further investigated. This may mean doing further assessment or formulating an assessment battery from the outset that may give the clearest picture of a student’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance, for the example mentioned above, using the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing to assess phonemics and the Gray Oral Reading Test to measure fluency (i.e. accuracy and efficiency) will provide more comprehensive data and present students with test material that is more challenging than either the WIAT-111 or the WJ-IV. Another tool is Easy CBM which measures reading am math skills and is geared to reflect the curriculum.
An interesting phenomenon has evolved as a result of the fact that the core curriculum is in many ways not developmentally grounded. That is, it poses tasks for students to perform that are beyond their developmental maturity. As a result, a participant at a workshop I gave on identifying learning disabilities proposed that another category of learning disability be considered: curriculum-based learning disorder. That is, a learning disorder that has its roots in the discrepancy between students’ developmental capacity to absorb the curriculum and the expectation that they should be able to master it, making them appear to be learning disordered. Are we creating learning disorders as a byproduct of the curriculum?