We wanted to determine how literacy programs screen and assess students for learning disabilities. We asked, “Does your program use a screening tool to identify students with learning disabilities?”
Since 81% of practitioners reported not using a screening/assessment tool yet 73% of practitioners say their programs do identify learners with learning disabilities; the question is, therefore, raised of how students with learning disabilities are identified within programs. This unexpected result shows a huge need in the Manitoba literacy community for effective methods to screen their students for learning disabilities.
It is reported by LDAC (2001) that often adults with learning disabilities are not aware of this difficulty before they enroll in a literacy or adult education program. Seventy-three percent of practitioners indicated that learners self identify as having a learning disability and of these, 94% indicated that these individuals‘ reports are based on previous screening/assessments. However, it is important to stress that only 42% of the sample indicated either “yes‘ or “no” and another 32% indicated they “don‘t know” whether students who self identify having a learning disability are doing so based on previous screening/assessments. It also should be noted that this question was not applicable to 24% of respondents because they stated that students in their program do not self identify as having a learning disability.
These findings help identify the difficulty practitioners have making estimates about the proportion of learners in their program that have learning disabilities. They also lend support for the need for effective screening/assessment methods for learning disabilities. The above findings are difficult to make causal assumptions about and would warrant further investigation.
However, practitioner comments captured in the qualitative data highlight some informal methods that they use to identify students with learning disabilities. These informal methods were usually based on observation and demonstrated varied levels of training to identify learning disabilities. One program used a “diagnosis made through informal means (watching students work and asking questions of students), matching student information to information from library, internet”. Another watched for “some common signs and characteristic awareness such as poor or uneven academic achievement, difficulty with language usage, poor organizational skills and or sequencing skills.” Yet, another mentioned “if I see an individual can‘t focus or is easily distracted, I‘ll put him in another room.”