A Response-to-Intervention (RTI) process is the multifaceted method of identifying students with a learning disability (LD). The evidence shows that scholars and practitioners tend to shift from the exclusionary criteria to inclusionary since they reflect the presence of disability (Fletcher et al., 2013). The sole use of exclusionary criteria cannot provide an understanding of what a student is capable of and what he or she can present at the latent level. Among the exclusionary criteria, there are sensory deficits, mental retardation, language minority, and so on. In turn, inclusionary criteria are composed of a cognitive discrepancy, poor instructional response, and low academic achievement. Compared to students with low achievement, LD learners differ by showing a deficit in information processing and the types of strategies they use to complete tasks. Additional challenges of LD learners are associated with memory systems and lower intelligence issues.
In the educational context, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team is responsible for the identification of LD based on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Compared to the diagnosis of the medical condition that can be performed by qualified clinical professionals, identification is more relevant to children with LD. The purpose of LD identification is to determine whether a student needs special education and services or not, while diagnosis implies the clarification of causes and treatment. Moreover, the identification involves observation, the review of developmental milestones, standard assessments, and other procedures that can be conducted at school and the student’s home settings (Orosco & Klingner, 2010). Considering that the educational system should meet the special needs of students, the identification of LD is the best option.
The importance of LD identification is also associated with the nature of the disability, which is often called a latent construct. According to Fletcher et al. (2013), LD is considered apparent only in terms of the efforts to measure its characteristics. This unobservable latent variable can be inconsistent and imperfect due to the differences in measurement. Therefore, it is possible to focus on the areas that represent disability, such as reading, writing, or other cognitive processes, which are the latent variables of LD. However, no model of measurement can reveal all the elements of the variables, which can lead to errors.
A monothetic classification system implies that all the defined criteria are necessary for the identification of LD. This system is used for students with misbehavior and other symptoms to ensure that they would receive special education. On the contrary, a polythetic classification admits that some criteria are obligatory, and others can be sufficient. For example, the number of hyperactivity-impulsivity and inattention can be varied in terms of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) to classify attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Fletcher et al., 2013). In addition, the above model does not require the homogeneity of attributes, while the monothetic system also considers heterogeneity in identification. The limitations of the monothetic classification system refer to its hierarchal structure and a lack of the opportunity to differentiate symptoms.
The limitations of aptitude-discrepancy models are associated with the fact that they focus only on a student’s intellectual ability (IQ) and its comparison with academic progress. These models fail to pay attention to students’ background factors and specific ways of cognitive functioning to differentiate between learning disabilities and other low achievers. The discrepancy between a child’s IQ and, for example, the reading ability cannot clarify the presence of a learning disability (Fletcher et al., 2013). The extent of the discrepancy that indicates developmental concern is also unclear, which can delay the identification of LD. As for a low-achievement model, its strength is the clarification of LD based on the absolute low achievement, targeting both LD and academic progress. However, in this case, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between students with low achievement only and those who have unexpected underachievement (Fletcher et al., 2013). Without additional criteria, it is difficult to understand a student’s academic behaviors and attitudes.
Considering the above classification systems, one can state that it is important to take into account all the students who demonstrate underachievement. This model implies that the identification is to be based on the response of students to changing instructions in the classroom environment. The implementation of the RTI means that teachers should assume that a student cannot make academic progress, he or she may have a deficit of some kind (Orosco & Klingner, 2010). In such a way, the RTI covers both students with LD and those who have other underlying reasons for low academic achievement. If the identification process did not reveal LD, it is important to further consider the case of a student by consulting with his or her parents and referring them to specialists. For example, second-language learners are often challenged by the comprehension of instructions, which should be taken into account by teachers to be distinguished from LD. Thus, RTI seems to be the most relevant instrument for identifying students with LD, focusing on their academic achievement, cognitive inconsistency, poor instructional response, as well as cultural and social background.
Fletcher, J., M., Stebing, K. K., Morris, R. D., & Lyon, G. R. (2013). Classification and definition of learning disabilities: A hybrid model. In H. L. Swanson, K. R. Harris, & S. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of learning disabilities (2nd ed., p. 33-50). Guilford Publications.
Orosco, M. J., & Klingner, J. (2010). One school’s implementation of RTI with English language learners: “Referring into RTI”. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 43(3), 269-288.