NCLD advisory board member Dr. Donald Deshler talks about the National Research Center for Learning Disabilities (NRCLD) and its impact on LD identification across the nation.
A note from Dr. Sheldon Horowitz of NCLD
Once you've read this interview (and I recommend that you read it twice: once to wrap your mind around the big ideas and again to absorb the details) you will appreciate the enormous contribution Don and his colleagues are making to the field of learning disabilities. To help you unravel these complicated research issues and see how they apply to your everyday lives, see my discussion questions following the article.
You'll see how important the work of the NRCLD is, not just for students with LD but for all students who struggle to learn. Thank you, Don, for reminding us that student learning is a moving target. Schools are dynamic, ever-changing places, and everything we know (or think we know) from our research needs to be checked and rechecked against the reality of teachers and students in real (and often diverse) classrooms and communities. Read on!
NCLD: What is the NRCLD's mission?
The mission of the National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD) is to conduct research on the identification of learning disabilities; formulate implementation recommendations; disseminate findings; and provide technical assistance to national, state, and local constituencies.
Large variations exist in State Education Agency (SEA) requirements for identifying students as having a learning disability. Variations exist in prevalence, definitions, classification criteria, exclusion factors, existence of ability-achievement discrepancy requirements, methods to determine the discrepancy if one is required, and the magnitude of the discrepancy in order to meet the state eligibility standards. The data we have collected clearly indicate that there is no national specific learning disabilities (SLD) diagnostic system, but rather an amalgamation of SEA systems that have varying degrees of similarity.
The report And Miles to Go by Dan Reschly et al. highlights the different practices currently being used by schools across the nation to identify students as having LD. What are some of the most significant findings from that paper?
The study by Dan and his colleagues underscores the complex nature of the construct of learning disabilities from both a conceptual and policy standpoint. Finding improved ways of identifying students with
LD will not simply be a matter of coming up with a better "technical solution." It is equally important for us to understand the important role that such things as school and community contexts and values and biases of key stakeholders play in ultimately determining the types and numbers of students who are identified and how a given identification system will actually be implemented on the front lines.
With this concentration on LD identification, how does the NRCLD see its efforts informing policy decisions during the next few years?
We believe that the best education policy emerges when leaders consistently seek out and use quality data to drive their decisions. Larry Gloeckler, former Deputy Commission of Education in New York and member of the NCLD Professional Advisory Board has said: "In the past, we were too often making education policy decisions based on intuition or emotion around the issue at hand. The fact is that, when we look at accurate data about educational performance and use it with sophisticated analytical strategies, it gives us a clear picture as to what are the important issues to resolve and how we should be allocating our resources to resolve them."
The NRCLD is committed to providing policy makers with those kinds of data as well as a clear explanation of the contexts within which the data were collected. Data in the absence of an understanding of the context from which it came can be misleading or inappropriately understood. The NRCLD hopes to provide to the field a solid database that can be used to answer questions that will continue to arise as we refine our efforts to more effectively identify students for LD services.