Prevalence of Learning Disabilities
Your chances of knowing someone with learning disabilities are very good. Currently, almost 2.9 million school-aged children in the United States are classified as having specific learning disabilities and receive some kind of special education support. In fact, over half of all children who receive special education have a learning disability (24th Annual Report to Congress . . . , 2002). They are approximately 5% of all school-aged children in public schools. (These numbers do not include children in private and religious schools or home-schooled children.) Learning disabilities is by far the largest category of special education.
It should be noted that prevalence figures can vary widely between states and within a state, depending on the stringency of the method used to determine eligibility. For example,
Kentucky reports the lowest prevalence figure (2.9%) and Massachusetts the highest (7.35%). A study completed in Michigan compared the learning disabilities eligibility criteria and procedures for identification across the 57 regional education service agencies in the state (RESA). The results indicated that 21% of the RESAs had no written eligibility criteria or policies, the length of the written policies varied from one sentence to 112 pages, and the severe discrepancy formula score varied from 15 to 30 standard score points! It is possible for a student to move a few miles to the next school district and no longer be considered to have a learning disability. (Smith, Pollaway, Patton, & Dowdy, 2004, p. 164)
Studies show that learning disabilities do not fall evenly across racial and ethnic groups. For instance, in 2001, 1% of white children and 2.6% of non-Hispanic black children were receiving LD-related special education services. The same studies suggest that this has to do with economic status and not ethnic background. Learning disabilities are not caused by economic disadvantage, but in low-income communities there is increased risk of exposure to harmful toxins (lead, tobacco, alcohol, etc.) at early stages of development.
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