In last blog post I talked about Jackson, a child who was struggling with basic concepts of math, such as time, money and simple fractions.
I had intended to build on last week’s blog, but instead I need to take a different direction in terms of Jackson.
Jackson was recently evaluated by the school’s special education team. In contrast to decent reading and decoding scores, severe problems were noted with the different mathematic tasks given to Jackson, with scores clustering around the 5th percentile. In short, Jackson was drowning with any math functions and was clearly in need of support in the form of patient, remedial instruction offered in a small group format on a regular (daily) basis.
From my point of view, looking at the data derived from the special education team, it was a “slam dunk” that Jackson should be classified with a learning disability.
That’s not the way it went though. When Jackson’s parents went in to review the special education assessment, the team said they were not classifying Jackson. No help or accommodation would be coming his way. After the meeting the case was to be closed.
Very simply, Jackson’s IQ wasn’t seen to be high enough. Effectively, he was being punished for an intelligence score that fell in the middle to high 80’s of IQ (around the 15th percentile), in spite of the fact that there were other scores om the IQ test that showed Jackson could demonstrate at least average potential in some of the sub-domains that were assessed.
Here’s the issue as I see it.
Each state interprets federal special education code in its own way. In the state of New Jersey, a learning disability is determined by:
A specific learning disability can be determined when a severe discrepancy is found between the student’s current achievement and intellectual ability in one or more of the following areas: (1) Basic reading skills; (2) Reading comprehension; (3) Oral expression; (4) Listening comprehension; (5) Mathematical calculation; (6) Mathematical problem solving; (7) Written expression; and (8) Reading fluency
So, for the lucky ones who fall in the upper portion of the bell-shaped curve of intelligence, say with an IQ of about 110 or more (around the 75th percentile), there is likely to be a “severe discrepancy” determined and the child will get help.
If you’re not smart enough, forget about it.
The main IQ test used by special education teams is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (5th edition) or WISC-V. It was originally developed by David Wechsler back in the 1940s. Anything I’ve read or known about David Wechsler suggests to me he would not be happy to see his test used in this way to ultimately deny a child like Jackson from getting the help he desperately needs.
Sadly, that’s how the test is often used now.
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Hi Dr. Selznick,
As a learning consultant and member of a Child Study Team, I am concerned with the overall feelings that may be evoked by your comments.
As I see it, If Jackson’s IQ fell within the mid 80’s even the low 80’s, and his math scores fell within the 5th percentile, we as a Child Study Team would have no question to find him eligible. In addition, you explained there was scatter between his scores, and we would also take that into consideration.
Also you left out part of the code for a Specific Learning Disability that states:
“A specific learning disability may also be determined by utilizing a response to scientifically based interventions methodology as described in NJAC 6A:14-3.
I always enjoy reading your blogs, but I feel you have misrepresented myself and my teammates by making such an over-generalization which may impact our relationships with parents. We work very hard to advocate for our students and to gain parent’s trust. We are not the enemy.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I greatly appreciate it. I will have to go back into what I said to see if I was broad-stroking. I know that teams work very hard, often under trying circumstances. In this blog I am talking about this one child, although being on the other side of the fence I get this type of thing a lot where kids who are clearly deficient in major areas of academic development are not given any services, primarily because of the issue with IQ.
I admit for me as long as I’ve been in this business this IQ thing has been a thorn in my side. In fact, if you put in the title “Help. I’m Being Held Hostage to My IQ,” I essentially wrote about the same topic a while ago, but with perhaps a bit more humor. Far too often I get parents coming in to see me who don’t know where to turn because the message they get (whether right or wrong) is “there is nothing we can do for your child.” I saw Jackson as severely disabled and for the life of me I can’t see how he was not classified and given services. Jackson’s WISC as I recall clustered in the mid 80’s and there was one domain (perhaps Fluid Reasoning) that was solidly average.
I greatly apologize to your team (or any team) who might take offense to this. Certainly, that is not my intent (although stirring the juices up once in a while is probably not a bad thing). Thanks for the comment. I am happy to keep the dialogue going if you want. Hope my answer explains some of it further.
Thanks for your response. I think all of us in the Field have had the same concerns with the code and the discrepancy formula. Rather than blaming one entity perhaps encouraging parents and educators to request the state department of education to change the code (as they did with dyslexia) would be to everyone’s benefit. With that being said, if Jackson was not found eligible for special education, wouldn’t it be the district who is accountable for providing the appropriate supports in general education?
If there is impiracle evidence showing all has been tried then the case should be reviewed.
To go off topic a little, I guess I am feeling that there are several outside professionals that view the Child Study Team as a deterrence to a child’s education, which all of us have experienced first hand. One of my parents told me when her daughter was diagnosed wit Autism Spectrum Disorder, the doctor told her to get a lawyer. We are intelligent people in the field whose job is to advocate for our children. It seems to me there is a great disservice being done to parents when the medical, private and public professionals don’t act professionally. It would be to our families advantage that all of us work as a team to respect one another in our knowledge of our perspective fields and to work together to treat the whole child.
Thanks, again for your thoughtful comment/response. I apologize if it comes across that I am broad brushing criticism of special education teams. I don’t think that was my intent when I wrote this piece.
I did note before that this “IQ thing” has been something that has always bothered me in the field and continues to do so. I honestly don’t know how to get past it, as it is my opinion (and opinions are just that) that the overuse of the FSIQ is a misuse of the test. (I am not suggesting even a little bit that teams are trying to hurt kids with this practice.) The use of IQ in special education assessment has been in place for decades. If I had my way, I would use the WISC for patterns of strengths and weakness, but de-emphasize the importance of the overall score. I don’t see it as a matter of respect – I have seen and interacted with many wonderful special education teams – but special education policy/code.
Can you explain severe discrepancy and scatter between scores in layman’s terms? This is something I’ve been trying to find more information on.
And in defense of your article, you may have not described June or her team, but you sure described my school district’s team and how they are fostering a climate of mediocrity. Numerous students, many with dyslexia are begin denied services mainly because they’ve delepoved amazing compensatory strategies. But are still struggling.
Thanks for telling it how it is in many places.
Thanks. Much appreciated. Perhaps some members of special education teams can offer assistance on how severe discrepancy is determined. It is my understanding that school districts vary in their method/approach. In a nutshell, I believe that many use a 1.5 standard deviation difference between IQ and overall academic performance in a major area such as reading. 15 points represents one standard deviation unit from the mean, so I believe that a 23 point discrepancy would be necessary. That is a very tough standard to obtain, and helps to explain why kids in the upper levels of IQ can have discrepancy more often established. Teams do take other factors into consideration, such as grades classroom observations.
In terms of scatter, when I look at a test like the WISC I am looking at how much variation there is across the different domains and the individual subtests. So, tare some scores above the mean (10 is the strict average) while others are far below – that is what is referred to as “scatter.” Kids with learning issues often have a great deal of scatter and variability in their profile.
Hope that helps.