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New 'State of Learning Disabilities' Report Tackles Stigmas

The National Center for Learning Disabilities released Tuesday a new edition of its "State of Learning Disabilities" report, which gathers sobering statistics, first-person articles, and suggestions educators, parents and lawmakers can use to support children and youth with learning and attention disabilities. 

The advocacy organization subtitled the report "Understanding the 1 in 5," with the intent of helping readers understand the high numbers of children who have disabilities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. About 40 percent of all school-aged children in special education are classified as having "specific learning disabilities," which includes dyslexia and other disorders, such as dyscalculia (difficulty in understanding numbers and math facts) and auditory processing disorders. 

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not have a category for ADHD, but many children with that disorder are believed to be grouped in the fast-growing category of "other health impairments," which accounts for about 14 percent of school-aged children covered under the IDEA.There also are students who may have learning challenges that fit into these categories, but they haven't been formally identified. 

Often children with learning and attention issues are thought to be lazy, or their struggles are seen as something they will grow out of, said Mimi Corcoran, the executive director of NCLD, in an interview. "The earlier that we understand and can diagnose them, the sooner that we can provide appropriate supports," she said. The report "is about creating awareness, it's about early intervention, and really about getting a deeper understanding," she said.

Students With Learning Disabilities are Struggling Academically

The report digs up some information that may be surprising: An analysis of the 2013 scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that students with special learning disabilities are getting worse scores than students with disabilities overall. (Disability-specific analysis is not yet available for the 2015 NAEP, the report noted.)

For example, in 4th grade reading, 69 percent of students with any disability scored below basic, compared to 85 percent of students with learning disabilities. (For the students without disabilities, it was 27 percent.) In 8th grade math, 21 percent of students without disabilities scored below basic, 65 percent of students with any type of  disabilities scored below basic, and 74 percent of students with learning disabilities scored below basic.

"The data suggest we're not in a great place," said Sheldon Horowitz, the senior director of learning resources and research at NCLD. The report notes that schools have to provide early and intensive interventions to students with disabilities, in addition to providing accommodations to help students access grade-level content.

The report also focuses on ingredients for successful transition to life after high school, and a set of recommended policy changes that include a push for early screening and better training for teachers. 

But it's not all numbers and recommendations. The report also embeds videos from youth with learning disabilities, parents, and teachers who put a face to the numbers. 

"I love it becase it takes the data and it gives you a personal story about what this meant to someone.That's a pretty powerful takeway," Corcoran said.

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