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ERIC Number: EJ998678
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: 4
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0164-775X
The Legal Meaning of Specific Learning Disability for IDEA Eligibility: The Latest Case Law
Zirkel, Perry A.
Communique, v41 n5 p10-12, 14 Jan-Feb 2013
Specific learning disability (SLD), although moderately declining in recent years, continues to be the largest of the eligibility classifications under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; NCES, 2012). The recognition of response to intervention (RTI) in the 2004 amendments of the IDEA as an approach for identifying students with SLD has generated successive changes in the 2006 IDEA regulations and in subsequent state laws (e.g., Zirkel & Thomas, 2010a, 2010b). RTI has also been a continuing subject of contention (e.g., Hale et al. 2010) and confusion (e.g., Zirkel, 2011b, 2012c). Corresponding to these developments, what has been the recent trend in litigation? Prior to the effective date of the 2006 regulations, a monograph provided a systematic analysis of the 25 years of prior case law--both at the hearing/review officer and court levels--concerning SLD eligibility (Zirkel, 2006). The major findings included that (a) the total amounted to approximately 90 pertinent cases from 1980 to 2006, with about four fifths at the hearing/review officer level; (b) the frequency of the decisions rose gradually during this period to an annual average of approximately seven during the last 6 years, with the majority arising in California (n = 20), Pennsylvania (n = 15), and New York (n = 11); and (c) school districts, typically defending the position that the child was not eligible as SLD, won approximately 80% of the cases, with the most frequent decisional factors being severe discrepancy (n = 68) or the need for special education (n = 31). An update limited to the subsequent 3.5-year period (Zirkel, 2010) found 18 decisions concerning SLD eligibility. The findings were preliminary based on the limited period. The proportion of court decisions doubled to approximately two fifths of the cases. Continuing the previous trend, California accounted for more of the decisions than any other state (n = 7), with Pennsylvania remaining in second place (n = 3). The outcome trend increased even more in favor of districts; the parents prevailed in establishing the child's eligibility in only one of the 18 cases. The primary decisional factors were severe discrepancy and, to only a slightly less frequent extent, the need for special education. Conversely, RTI was conspicuous in its absence, surfacing in just two decisions and then in only a negligible role. The purpose of this analysis is to extend the previous, preliminary update to cover a fuller, 6-year period and, thus, provide a more accurate picture of the recent trends in relation to the prior 25-year analysis. The specific questions include: (1) Have the upward slope and California and hearing/review officer predominance in frequency of decisions continued?; (2) Has the trend of district-friendly outcomes changed?; and (3) Has RTI become a major decisional factor in these cases? (Contains 1 table.)
National Association of School Psychologists. 4340 East West Highway Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814. Tel: 301-657-0270; Fax: 301-657-0275; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A