Special Ed

WHAT IS A Specific Learning Disability?

A specific learning disability (SLD) is “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia that adversely affects a student’s educational performance. A SLD does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.” (34 CFR § 300.8(c)(10)).


In compliance with the MARSE (Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education), a MET (Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team) conducts a full and individual evaluation of a student suspected to have a SLD. The MET, based upon its evaluation of the student, then makes its recommendation of eligibility to the IEP team. The student’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team then determines SLD eligibility (R 340.1713).


Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses Process:

1. The student does not achieve adequately for the student’s age or to meet State approved grade-level standards in one or more of the areas identified at 34 CFR § 300.309(a)(1)(i) when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the student’s age or State-approved grade-level standards; and

2. The student exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, State-approved grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the MET to be relevant to the identification of a SLD, using appropriate assessments, consistent with the IDEA Evaluation Procedures and Additional Requirements for Evaluations and Reevaluations.


 The MET is required to consider what are commonly referred to as “exclusionary” factors. It must be clearly understood that a student to whom one of these factors applies might still be appropriately determined as SLD eligible. The issue is one of “primary cause” for the SLD. With the changes in SLD eligibility criteria, serious consideration of these factors has become even more important.

The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) requires that the determination of SLD eligibility must not be determined based on findings that are primarily the result of:

  • Lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including the essential components of reading instruction (as defined in section 1208(3) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act); MDE OSE-EIS SLD Criteria 9 5/7/2010
  • Lack of appropriate instruction in math;
  • Limited English proficiency.

The determination of SLD eligibility must not be based on findings of inadequate achievement and insufficient progress or patterns of strengths and weaknesses that are primarily the result of: 

  • A visual, hearing, or motor disability;
  • A cognitive impairment;
  • An emotional impairment;
  • Cultural factors;
  • Environmental or economic disadvantage; or
  • Limited English proficiency.


 The team needs to consider: 

  • The instruction that the student has been receiving;
  • The qualifications and training of the person delivering the instruction; and
  • The student’s access to that instruction.

Since the determination of SLD eligibility requires documentation that a student demonstrates a skill deficit and insufficient progress, there should be evidence that appropriate instruction in the area(s) of concern has been provided, including fidelity of instruction and intervention implementation.

The team will also want to determine whether a student’s access to core instruction, as well as to scientific, research-based interventions is: 

  • Impacted by poor attendance;
  • Frequent moves between schools; or
  • Other factors.

If a determination of SLD eligibility cannot be made due to lack of appropriate instruction, attempts must be made to ensure that appropriate instruction is provided and that the student’s response to that instruction is documented.