The National Center for Learning Disabilities, based in New York, has just released an excellent report that offers a broad overview of the state of students with learning disabilities nationwide.
The center pulled statistics from several reports, including many maintained by the U.S. Department of Education, and put them in an easy-to-understand and useful format. Among some of the highlights collected in State of Learning Disabilities 2009:
- The identification rate of school-age students with LD has consistently declined for the past 10 years.
- Learning disabilities disproportionately affect people living in poverty.
- People of all races are identified with LD at about the same rate (except people of Asian descent).
- The cost of educating a student with LD is 1.6 times higher than a regular education student (compared with 1.9 for all students with disabilities).
I was surprised to see that the rate of identification of learning disabilities is going down, even though the classification “specific learning disability” is still the most common one among children eligible for special education services: 44 percent of children in special education had that classification in 2007, according to government statistics. (Within that broad category, dyslexia—difficulty understanding written language—is the most common learning disability.)
In comparison, autism, which receives a lot of attention, accounted for 4 percent of students with disabilities in 2007, the report states.
However, even at 44 percent, that classification rate marks a decrease from the more than 50 percent of students who were classified with learning disabilities in 2000.
The report hypothesizes that educational frameworks like response to intervention may be playing some role in the decrease of children classified as being learning disabled. Indeed, one of the prime movers behind the push for RTI is the belief that if children receive high-quality instruction when they are young, they won’t be classified as having learning disabilities later in their school careers. Much more on that topic can be found here.
Improvement in reading instruction and widespread early-childhood education programs were also cited as possible causes of the drop in identification.
What didn’t surprise me, unfortunately, is that identifications of learning disabilities are more common among students in poverty. The report suggests that children in poverty are more likely to be exposed to environmental toxins, poor nutrition, and other risk factors during early, critical stages of brain development.
The report also includes information on behavior, use of technology, graduation data and dropout rates, and legal protections. Anyone interested in knowing more about learning disabilities and their impact on students will appreciate this guide.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.