Since IDEA was reauthorized in 2004, state education policy makers and other professional stakeholders in districts and schools have been working together to find ways to better improve the lives of children with learning delays and deficits. Recognized experts have concluded that a combination of data is needed to optimize service delivery for children with and without SLD. This includes knowing how a child responds to intervention efforts (RTI) and evaluating information from a comprehensive evaluation of psychological processes that underline learning. Many children can be helped with proactive screening of academic and behavioral performance and early interventions. However, some children do not respond to best attempts at intervention. In this case, additional evaluation of processing strengths and deficits is needed to accurately identify SLD.
IDEA defines the term "specific learning disability" as "a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations." More specifically, in using RTI to determine SLD, the U.S. Department of Education says that an LEA (local education agency) must comply with the criteria adopted by the SEA (state education agency) regarding this requirement. Section 300.304(b) states that in conducting an evaluation, a public agency must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental and academic information about the child. This includes obtaining any data from a parent that may assist in determining eligibility. The public agency may not use any single measure or assessment as the only factor in determining whether a child has a disability and for developing an appropriate education program for the child.**
Knowing a child's strengths and weaknesses in processing information can be useful in designing individualized interventions that can be implemented, evaluated, and modified as necessary. This combination of empirically supported best practices could reduce the need for special education. RTI provides early intervention services for children with learning difficulties. Such an evaluation could also lead to more accurate intervention and identification of SLD and other disorders that impede learning. This more balanced approach serves the best interests of children, their families, and schools by providing a multi-factored view of abilities and needs in a number of areas.