Free Essay On Social Constructs Of Learning Disabilities: Accuracy Of Assessments And The Question Of Neurological Origin
The concept of the learning disability is relatively new, having been constructed identified within the past fifty to sixty years (Sleeter, 2010). Surprisingly, the construct of the learning disability hinges upon creation of an ideological standard of normal; the implicit assumption that we as educators know what constitutes right or normal attitudes or behavior, and that anything which falls outside of normal is a potential disability (Sleeter, 2010). These are unproven assumptions, rather than empirical, data-driven fact, and form the backbone for current definition, assessment, and interventional methods (Sleeter, 2010).
There are multiple theories behind the social construction of learning disabilities: one states that social pressure from parents in the 1950’s and 1960’s, whose children had difficulty keeping up with the standard of reading or writing, caused creation and identification of a group that had always been present, but had never been recognized (Sleeter, 2010). Another theory suggests that its social construct runs much deeper: learning disabled (LD) children are identified by their inability to meet specific standards of literacy, which have changed astronomically over time (Sleeter, 2010).
The need for advanced professional training raised literacy and other educational standards over the years, and they continue to increase (Townsend, 2006). A strong correlation between increasing standards and learning disabilities has been found: the more standards increased, the wider the chasm between the levels of ability within the classroom (Sleeter, 2010). Immediately prior to the construction of the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities, there was a strong push for schools to increase their achievement standards (Sleeter, 2010). Standards were raised, with frequent testing implemented to determine whether students were performing at standard – a standard that was arbitrarily created with little regard for individual ability or need: political and economic demand was the driving factor (Sleeter, 2010). Following the implementation of higher standards, a large percentage of the school-age population would be unable to meet the “average” standards for reading within a classroom. In 1968, studies showed that 15% of children were unable to meet first grade reading requirements, and 30% in grades 3-5 were unable to meet standards (Sleeter, 2010). A search to find a neurological origin began, which helped parents explain the disorder.
A neurological explanation absolved the parents, child, and any socio-economic or cultural factors from blame (Sleeter, 2010). Official definition and educational programs were subsequently created as the result of social pressure from parental lobbying (Sleeter, 2010). No mention was made of individual differences, or the fact that perhaps not all children will perform exactly the same way, at exactly the same standard, which might be an aspect of population variation rather than disability (Townsend, 2006). Additionally, quality of instruction was never analyzed, although it has been theorized that this, coupled with increasingly high and difficult to meet standards, could perhaps be a very large factor in the development of learning disabilities (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003).
With its origin set firmly in social constructs, then, one might hypothesize that assessments, curriculum, and instructional strategies for those with learning disabilities may also be flawed, given that they were birthed from the same social construct and do not appear to be evidence-based or scientifically analyzed. Of particular importance is the IQ-achievement deficit method of testing, which has not been empirically supported (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003). There has been no evidence found that degree of discrepancy relates to learning disability in any way; that students with a discrepancy perform differently (academically) than those without; and that there is any reliable information to be obtained, or any way to tailor instruction, based upon a student’s discrepancy score (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003). Thus, those classified as learning disabled may be falsely identified as such, or there may be additional factors at play that are not uncovered, such as educational inadequacy (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003).
Vaughn and Fuchs (2003) have also suggested that if widespread curricular discrepancies and instructional inadequacy could be measured, fewer learning disabled students may be diagnosed. A successful model by which those who struggle can be tested and interventions employed could include four phases: 1) tracking rate of growth of students within an entire classroom in which several struggling students have been identified, 2) assessment of “at risk” children – those whose performance is significantly below the rest, 3) classroom-wide adaptations to create a more academically nurturing environment, and 4) re-assessment of the at-risk students and entire classroom in general (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003).
The assumption behind this model is that reduction of learning disability classifications due to poor instructional strategies would occur, allowing identification of those few individuals who may have an intrinsic disorder resistant to adaptation (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003). Unfortunately, learning-disabled individuals are typically identified as those who cannot meet standards and are, in some cases, provided with few interventions (where budgets prohibit) (Townsend, 2006). In other cases, they may be placed in special classes that fail to assess or meet individual needs (Townsend, 2006).
The social constructs behind the designation of the learning disabled group, as well as the social pressure behind a diagnostic definition, assessment, and intervention, might suggest that a neurological component in the learning disorder group may be more rare than previously suggested, particularly in the face of stark lack of empirical data to back up such an allegation. It appears that learning disorders may at least partially reflect inability to accept varying, individual levels of normal due to societal needs for high levels of educated professionals. This is reflected in the subsequent creation of standards that meet these demands rather than meeting the needs and abilities of the population and a lack of empirical data behind diagnostic definitions and testing and lack of emphasis on educational inadequacy. A more comprehensive method of defining learning disabilities, which takes into account individual variances and re-defines the “normal” standard, as well as a focus on educational inadequacy, should be the cornerstone of learning disability diagnosis and intervention.
Sleeter, C. (2010). Why is there learning disabilities? A critical analysis of the birth of the field in its social context. Disability Studies Quarterly, 20(2), 234-237.
Townsend, N. (2006). Framing a ceiling as a floor: The changing definition of learning disabilities and the conflicting trends in legislation affecting learning disabled students. Creighton Law Review, 40, 229-270.
Vaughn, S. & Fuchs, L. (2003). Redefining learning disabilities as inadequate response to instruction: The promise and potential problems. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(3), 137-146.
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