What do we need to know

I’m asking readers (both of you—teehee, there really are about 3 or 4 of you, but please invite your friends and colleagues) to tell me what you consider the three (or two or four) most important research questions about Learning Disabilities interventions. These need to be BIG IDEA questions. What do teachers and parents need to know about how to help students with LD?

Examples (in no order; I’m just hoping to provoke discussion):

  • Does RTI really help prevent problems in (a) reading, (b) writing, (c) math, and (d) social-behaviorl outcomes? Does effectiveness vary by age?
  • Do curricular approaches produce different benefits for students with LD?
  • What procedures produce the best outcomes for students with LD when they are 25 years old?
  • What specific competencies make teachers more or less successful in promoting learning by students with LD?

Please think about issues that are balanced between general and explicitly testable. This is just a little crowd sourcing inquiry. I’d like your suggestions to illustrate ideas that actually can be investigated using rigorous scientific methods. Finding the fundamental causes of LD, although an important concept, is off base for this thread. I’m hoping to talk about the fundamental actions that educators can undertake.

19 Responses to “What do we need to know”


  • I’d love to know more about the benefits of inclusion. Schools tend to either have full pull-out programs, or be set up for full-inclusion. Does inclusion promote better academic outcomes for students with learning disabilities, or do students with learning disabilities lose out on instruction that would best benefit their needs with inclusion? What is the best model for inclusion?

  • Where an LD intervention is tried and works very well for some and doesn’t work at all for others, what factors should be looked at as causing the variability in success/failure? (Let’s assume that the subjects are properly diagnosed and the intervention is appropriate for their diagnosed disability, the intervention is administered consistently, etc.) Maybe this is a roundabout way of getting at wanting to see researchers investigate and communicate these nuances more carefully when claims of effectiveness are made, to try to beat back the overwhelming impulse of “silver bullet” thinking by policymakers who make programming decisions cloaked in the mantle of “effectiveness”.

  • The most important issue for me is RTI. It holds the promise of identifying problems early and providing help quickly. That help can also be monitored and adjusted as needed.

  • My (so called) expertise is with children who have autism. So my LD focus is rather narrow.
    I have seen that inclusion has worked with many of our children. However, I have also seen that inclusion isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Our son (for example) has thrived in an inclusion/pull-out situation.

    I also have seen the need for some sort of job training/transition/placement for those who aren’t going on to college. In our area, there is one sort of training and it is quite rudimentary. We are hopeful that programming like customized employment and the like will catch on, but it will take some time. And, of course, money.

  • I wish there were more head-to-head comparisons of programs designed to remediate children with dyslexia.

    And analysis of non-responders would be really useful, too.

  • In my opinion, differentiating instruction is critical to the success of any student so the big question would be, how does the use of differentiated instruction impact on the increase of academic skills in students with learning disabilities? Another area that I feel is important is the social intergration of children with learning disabilities with their peers. What strategies are effective in promoting social intergration and does increased social intergration have a positive effect on measurable outcomes in the academic areas?

  • Kids are individuals — you can’t say “this is a kid with LDs, so this program for kids with LDs will be the right fit” You are too likely to end up blaming the kid (or the parent) if it doesn’t work, without considering that maybe it wasn’t the right fit for the child in the first place. Different children have different needs, and a one-size-fits-all program is a fallacy. That’s not to say that the right individual fit for every single child is feasible – simply that sometimes there are no right answers and both parents and teachers have to make compromises.

    Additionally, I’d say that it is critical to consider a child’s strengths as well as her weaknesses. If a child is 2e (twice exceptional, aka LD and gifted) and you ignore the giftedness, you are losing opportunities and doing the child a disservice and possibly causing damage. Try not to see a child as “a child with LD” and instead get to know them personally.

  • I like the comments and questions of my colleagues, here. Getting the classroom to work for each child is the sine qua non. Therefore I am interested in questions like:

    What is the value added of a good learning skills specialist or learning team?
    How can we determine the value added of a learning specialist and/or learn skills team?
    (To be really dramatic about it:) How do we know that a learning specialist (in or out of school) actually makes a difference? or what difference do they make?

  • Thanks for posting on my blog Liz! Identifying Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) is definitely one of the most important and intricate skills that a school psychologist has to execute – from initial identification to intervention and educational planning. I think it is important for parents and teachers to understand what the basic psychological processes are that effect a student’s achievement in a particular area, such as reading fluency, reading comprehension, math problem solving, math calculation skills, etc. It would be very helpful for parents and teachers to understand the basic psychological processes that are commonly weak when there is difficulty in a particular academic area. I usually speak of SLD as a disorder in a basic psychological process, e.g. – working memory, processing speed, verbal fluid reasoning, nonverbal fluid reasoning… If we know which psychological process is impacted, we know how best to intervene.

    I also think that error analysis of a particular academic skill is very important for teachers to execute. What basic reading skill is weak? What area of math is difficult? A good error analysis is significant to developing an appropriate academic intervention. I find that teachers are good with knowing the qualitative ranges of a student’s performance, but really lack the interpretation skills.

    Another area that teachers need more psycho-education in is the difference between a Tier 1 and Tier 2 intervention and special education identification. Each of us has a weakness psychologically and academically, or at least a strength that is an outlier compared to the rest of our skills, so it is best to know when it is more appropriate to develop an academic intervention versus making a referral to special education.

    Let me think about the EBD topic.

  • I’d like to see more research on how to accurately distinguish between young kids who truly have LD’s and those who are just “late bloomers”.

  • I think an important research question is if there are any neurological differences between kids with LD and “slow learners/late developers”. The latter group tends to be defined in districts where I work as kids who do not have discrepancy between ability and achievement, and fall in the 85-90 IQ range. These students often do not receive special education services under the traditional discrepancy model, but still have learning challenges and in some ways need intervention more than kids with LD.

    It would be interesting to compare slow learners with LD kids receiving RtI and look at their growth trajectory in academics. I would hypothesize that good intervention helps both groups, and it would build a case for prevention instead of waiting for kids to fail enough. A third group–kids with borderline IQ (mid 70s, low 80s) could also be added to the research model, since they are probably the most underserved group who needs intervention the most. They are not low enough to be classified MR, but not high enough to be classified LD, and they get very little support.

  • #1 – I want to see studies on large scale implementation.
    Yes, Program A looks good when done at a Lab School as performed by Grad Assistants who are proteges of the creator, but what happens when a “real” district implements large-scale.

    #2 – I would like to see a study on how for-profit programs have infiltrated the What Works Clearinghouse and SAMHSA’s Evidenced-Based Programs database.

    It would appear to me that well-funded programs with marketing departments would have a head-start. Is this true? Are they that much better, or is it really a marketing edge?

  • I had to look up RtI so I hope my comment isn’t off track. However, I agree with Rebecca that we need to look at the educational needs of students with IQs in the 70′s. My students in this category are tragically underserved. At 17 and 18, they have been failing in school their entire lives. Rather than offer job training and life strategies, we force them into remedial classes to pass state standards tests.

  • Direct Instruction (per Engelmann) has had good results with children who are behind (both LD kids and lower IQ kids). It seems to work because it focuses very heavily on making sure that each child has a chance to master what’s currently being taught before moving on to the next step. However, it also groups children (flexibly) according to where they are in the curriculum and also, in larger settings, by how quickly they have learned up to the present; this is hard for teachers and parents to accept. Teachers also have resisted DI because it’s scripted. So I think one of the big tasks for researchers is to figure out how to use the strengths of DI for children with LD (and kids who are just slow learners), without segregating them from their peers.

  • What interests me is teacher’s attitudes towards evaluation recommendations? What characterizes them? How does this influence the parent-teacher, child-teacher relationship?

    From my experience, there are certain teachers who feel quite threatened by the recommendations on an evaluation report. On the one hand they relate to it as extra work and effort on their part while they’ve used up all of their energy as it is, and on the other hand they don’t really believe the recommendations will work.

    Another interesting question would be related to cultural differences. Evaluations are being recommended to everyone, but people and cultural groups for example are different, what effect does this have on the implementation of the recommendations and on a social level the relationships of the different people involved?

  • In considering any research on RTI, it is important to keep in mind that schools may or may not be implementing it appropriately. I have read research related to RTI and see how, in theory, it could be wonderful for catching kids (particularly those with dyslexia) early, interventing early, and preventing a whole host of problems. However, in my area, RTI is not implemented in a manner that is consistent with the research. The programs selected are often not research supported programs, the teachers implementing the programs often do not have specialized treaining in work with kids with disabilities, and the monitoring of progress (and response to the monitoring) is terribe. I recently met a child who has been doing RTI for nearly 3 years, with minimal if any progress, yet the school just stays with RTI; this is not the fault of RTI, but the fault of those who do not have enough knowledge and are implementing it inappropriately.

    I think research investigating how well new teachers are trained to recognize and respond to children with learning disabilities is extremely important. The private reading specialist I work closely with has had parents who are teachers sit in with their child during reading sessions–the teachers always have the same question, “Why didn’t anybody teach me this when I was in college?” (referring to the methods used in the Wilson Language Program). My son’s first grade teacher told me she suspected one of her students had dyslexia, but when she described what she was seeing, it didn’t sound like dyslexia, but rather problems with visual processing; despite being an excellent teacher for kids without disabilities, she did not have a basic understanding of dyslexia or other processing disorders. This is a serious weakness in our education system.

  • New to this space. RTI such a new term!

    What we need to do is strength each individual’s weak skills with specific direction instruction. If its reading work on decoding and phoenimic awareness. If its a processing weakness that needs to be addressed individually as well. Repetetive instruction scaffolding each skill over and over which eventually help the student learn strategies and have tools to help them with their weaknesses.

    If a child has been receiving sp. ed. services for many years in a pull out program in a small group setting chances are that each child in that small group is at a different level. The amount of progress made each year is minimal. What happens when they go back to class. What happens when the sp. ed. teacher is sick. In elementary school there are so many specials (gyp, art, etc.) how much real time is each child receiving.

    Fast forward to middle school and high school. The amount of progress made to strengthen the weak skills is minimal. Most of these children are VERY intelligent. Being in an institution year after year and knowing that you’re not very good at school has an enormous impact on self-esteem and motivation it’s no wonder many students’s IQ’s drop.

    If they have not received the skills by then and the system cannot (at first I said will not but most systems now don’t have funding for much) provide the appropriate direct instruction then these middle and high school students that have reading disabilities should be introduced for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. This service has just about any possible textbook, manual, novel, available. The service is FREE. Each student needs to provide proof of disability (front page of student’s IEP) to become a member. Books are available in different formats (cd’s, downloadable). It’s a lifesaver. These older students can manage the material themselves (or with a parent’s help). If you wait for the school systems to provide it they would lose a lot of time. This is an important tool and it gives older students INDEPENDENCE! Teenagers don’t want someone holding their hand every step of they way. They feel so incompetent. They don’t know what they don’t know! Most people with ld have great minds.

    Regular education teachers do not understand the impact being learning disabled has on each individual child. Dyslexia and other learning disabilities NEVER GO AWAY.

    In general very few teachers understand how a ld child’s mind is different. I had an idea that maybe an IEP should first and most importantly state what the individual CAN do. If you start there and then move on anD build on the positive it makes a lot of sense.

    My biggest problem is that teachers don’t read IEP’s and/or follow them.

    I have been working throught the system and sat around the table at many many meetings. Individuals with learning disabilities have such amazing minds. I try and explain to someone what it feels like, sometimes they understand, sometimes they don’t.

  • RTI is one of the rages we are hearing about but has not been clearly presented for educators, teachers, and parents to examine. This movement clouds the real issue – question – what is learning to learn and how can a student with disabilities be successful?
    Professor Reuven Feuerstein’s Mediated Learning Experience answers that question. Prof. Feuerstein’s programs of Instrumental Enrichment Basic and Classic a must investigation and application. learning is mediated by a experienced trained adult to focus, guide, and organize a learner throughout the thinking process. What is relevant data , the construction of data into valid relationships and communicating this relationship effectively and efficiently is central. Cognitive functions of the individual learner are uncovered and addressed in learning how to learn. Prof. Feuerstein’s program is clearly an area to explore for America’s education system. ( The program can be researched at icelp.org and iri.org. Why over dozens of countries and hundreds of schools use FIE and the United States does not – puzzles me).

  • I think the most important questions in education is why teachers won’t or can’t used practices proven effective. While RTI is all the trend lately, one-on-one and small group instruction and improved phoneme awareness are proven by research to close the gap for students behind in reading. So why is the intenstity and political will lacking to make this happen? Call it what you will why the hesitation to provide the intensity necessary.

    Another area I think is important is fetting data regarding how much writing is required to make a living wage. We assume we know what students need to have 21st centuray skills but there is little data that really specifies what they need. Everyone says math and science but I personally see a lack of focus on the ability to write clearly that would be a hinderance in any employment situation. So I think there is a lot of policial rhetoric that clouds that issue.

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