Ministry of Education - Special Education Manual, E.3 Learning Disabilities
In May 2002, the Ministry of Education adopted the following definition of learning disabilities, adapted from the definition developed by the Canadian Learning Disabilities Association (January 2002).
Learning disabilities refers to a number of disorders that may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual disabilities. Learning disabilities result from impairments in one or more processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning. These include, but are not limited to: language processing, phonological processing, visual spatial processing, processing speed, memory and attention, and executive functions (e.g. planning and decision-making). Learning disabilities range in severity and may interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following:
Learning disabilities may also involve difficulties with organizational skills, social perception, social interaction and perspective taking. Learning disabilities are life-long. The way in which they are expressed may vary over an individual's lifetime, depending on the interaction between the demands of the environment and the individual's strengths and needs. Learning disabilities are suggested by unexpected academic under-achievement or achievement that is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support. Learning disabilities are due to genetic and/or neurological factors or injury that alters brain function in a manner that affects one or more processes related to learning. These disorders are not due primarily to hearing and/or vision problems, social-economic factors, cultural or linguistic differences, lack of motivation, inadequate or insufficient instruction, although these factors may further complicate the challenges faced by individuals with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities may co-exist with other disorders such as attentional, behavioural or emotional disorders, sensory impairments, or other medical conditions.
Identification and Assessment
Schools and school boards are responsible for assessing students for the purposes of planning instruction and support services and identifying them as students with special needs. Students with learning disabilities demonstrate at least average ability. On an individual assessment of cognitive ability or on a norm referenced achievement instrument that measures reading comprehension, written expression, or problem solving in mathematics, students will score at or above one standard deviation below the norm. Despite this average ability, students with learning disabilities often experience difficulties in the acquisition of basic academic skills and/or in school performance and are characterized by unexpected academic under-achievement or achievement that is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support. The severity of these academic difficulties is such that students demonstrate:
Students with learning disabilities demonstrate a significant weakness in one or more cognitive processes (perception, memory, attention, receptive or expressive language abilities, and visual-spatial abilities) relative to overall intellectual functioning. Norm-referenced assessment instruments often assess such weaknesses. Students with learning disabilities may demonstrate a significant discrepancy between estimated learning potential and academic achievement as measured by norm-referenced achievement instruments. Most students included in the Learning Disabilities category will be identified by the school system through the progressive assessment and systematic documentation process described in Section C – Developing an Individual Education Plan:
In some cases, students may have been identified in clinical settings. The assessment is often multidisciplinary, supplementing the psycho-educational assessment with information from a speech-language pathologist or an occupational therapist. The assessment of a student with a learning disability should integrate information from a number of sources, for example:
Assessment information should contribute to the process of planning and evaluating the student's education program.
Planning and Implementation
Learning disabilities vary considerably in their severity and impact on learning. Students with severe learning disabilities will generally require intensive intervention. Students whose learning disabilities have not been identified and addressed early frequently exhibit secondary emotional and behavioural difficulties. Students may be gifted and learning disabled. Students with learning disabilities require an educational plan that builds on their strengths while remediating and compensating for their disabilities. Research suggests two main approaches for supporting students with learning disabilities:
This instruction may take place in regular classrooms, but this does not preclude the use of different learning environments such as small group instruction in a resource room, self-contained classes or other specialized settings. The goal of the placement should be to meet the students' educational needs. Some ways to support students with learning disabilities could include, but are not limited to the following:
Evaluation and Reporting
Evaluating student progress
In most cases students will take part in the regular program with the necessary adaptations (e.g., alternate evaluation methods). Evaluation will be based on the regular standards (i.e., extent to which learning outcomes were attained). The method of evaluation will be consistent with the IEP and with ministry reporting policies in respect to the use of comments and/or letter grades. Some students may require extensive modifications to parts of their program so that some of their goals will be substantially different from the regular curriculum. In these cases, evaluation will be based on the degree to which the individualized goals are achieved.
Evaluating student progress
Reports to parents should be provided in the same format and on the same schedule used for all students. Progress should be reported with respect to all components of the program, and with reference to progress in relation to IEP goals. Reports should indicate the adaptations and modifications made to the student's educational program, as well as performance relative to widely held expectations. All personnel directly involved in the ongoing educational program (e.g., classroom teacher, specialist teacher, speech-language pathologist) should report on student progress (see Appendix H.10.3 Student Progress Report Order).
TeachersWith sufficient training and experience, classroom teachers will be able to meet the needs of most students with learning disabilities and provided an education program in which they can be successful, provided that specialized support is available when needed. Inservice training opportunities and a collaborative team approach are recommended to support and encourage the development of the necessary skills and understandings which the classroom teacher may require. Teachers with responsibilities for supporting students with learning disabilities should fulfill the qualifications described for Learning Assistance teacher (see Section D.1 Learning Assistance Services). In addition, their qualifications should include advanced coursework in:
As well, they should have training and demonstrated skills in:
Teachers' assistants working with students with learning disabilities should have sufficient skills and training for the duties they are assigned, including:
It should be noted that teachers' assistants work under the direction of a teacher and the general supervision of a teacher or school principal. Inservice training should include opportunities to further develop skills in these and related areas.
Students who are print-disabled because of a learning disability may be eligible to receive audiotape material from the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired (see Appendices for PRCVI information).
Roles and Responsibilities