Students with learning disabilities (LD) are a heterogeneous group of learners who exhibit below-average achievement theoretically caused by an underlying psychological processing deficit (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007). School-based identification of LD is necessary if students are to receive specialized supports and instruction through special education services (Burns & Ysseldyke, 2009; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1995; Ysseldyke, Burns, Scholin, & Parker, 2010). However, LD identification is convoluted due to variable practices and the psychometric and conceptual issues underlying identification methodologies. This study examined school psychologists’ decision-making regarding LD identification. Participants on both study 1 and study 2 included 376 practicing school psychologists from across the United States. Study 1 examined the consistency of school psychologists’ LD identification decisions across three identification methods (i.e., ability-achievement discrepancy, response to intervention, and pattern of strengths and weaknesses) and across student evaluation data conclusive levels (i.e., conclusive-not LD, inconclusive, conclusive-LD). Results showed that although there were not differences in identification consistency across identification methods, there were differences in identification consistency across conclusiveness levels of student evaluation data. Study 2 examined differences in school psychologists’ confidence in their identification decisions across identification methods, student evaluation data conclusiveness level, school psychologist experience, and identification consistency. Significant differences in school psychologist confidence across identification method and conclusiveness level were found with school psychologists reporting being the most confident using ability-achievement discrepancy and lower levels of confidence when student data were inconclusive. Significant differences in confidence were not found across school psychologists’ experience or identification consistency. The findings from study 1 and study 2 were discussed in the context of previous research as well as implications for future research, school psychological practice, and special education policy. Specifically, the need for further research regarding LD identification methods in order to ensure identification decisions are reliable and valid is discussed. Moreover, the potential impact on school psychologists’ LD identification practices and consequential student special education servicing are addressed. Limitations of the current research and conclusions are also outlined.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2015. Major: Educational Psychology. Advisors: Matthew Burns, Amanda Sullivan. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 170 pages.
School Psychologists’ Consistency and Confidence in Learning Disability Identification: The Impact of Identification Methodology and Inconclusive Student Data.
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