The Problems Of Identification Of Learning Disabilities

On Babies and Bathwater: Addressing the Problems of Identification of Learning Disabilities

This article by Thomas Scruggs and Margo Mastropieri discusses the problems that arise when trying to identify learning disabilities. It is from the summer 2002 issue of Learning Disability Quarterly.

Identification problems

In the process of identifying learning disabilities, Scruggs and Mastropieri name eight major problems. These include over identification, variability, specificity, conceptual considerations, discrepancy issues, early identification and local implementation. Although there is no perfect method for identification, a good method would be to increase the specificity of state definitions and criteria as well as ensuring that these criteria are closely followed when implemented on the local level.

Current trends in Identification

It is clear that the rates of identification for learning disabilities are increasing rapidly. This could be attributed to the lack of a clear definition or identification process and a process that relies on excluding other possibilities to make a decision. For example, if mental retardation, emotional disturbance or cultural disadvantages can be ruled out, then often learning disability is the identified condition. Another trend in the identification of learning disabilities is through finding a discrepancy between IQ and performance. Scruggs and Mastropieri argue that this is a “wait to fail” model and that students should instead by judged based on their performance in relation to the performance levels of their peers.

New definition of Learning Disabilities

A more specific definition of learning disabilities will help promote more accurate diagnoses. In a study cited in the article, more than 80% of teachers surveyed believed a learning disability was involved a discrepancy between ability and achievement, learning strengths as well as weaknesses, academic strengths as well as weaknesses, a processing deficit that interferes with learning ability, average or above intelligence, a need for special materials and instructional techniques and ability to learn at a different rate than individuals with mental retardation.

Evaluating Identification Processes

The article also included criteria that could describe a successful identification process. Such a process must address the multifaceted nature of learning disabilities, be applicable to multiple age groups, and address the problems of inadequate application. It must also reduce over identification and reduce variation in rates across different educational levels as well as reduce false positive or false negative identifications.


This article discussed problems with learning disabilities but also outlined solutions for a more effective diagnosis process. Teachers are often the first to notice potential learning disabilities and therefore should understand their nature and the best ways to identify them. This way, we can avoid over-identification of learning disabilities in general but also prevent other problems, such as the over-identification of minority groups.

Scruggs, Thomas E. and Margo A. Mastropieri. (2002). On Babies and Bathwater: Addressing the Problems of Identifying Learning Disabilities. Find the article attached below under the files section

Posted by Theresa Garcia de Quevedo