The Identification of Specific Learning Disabilities: A Summary of Research on Best Practices


Specific learning disability (SLD) is the most common eligibility category through which students receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In Texas alone, more than 150,000 students received special education services in the 2016–2017 school year due to an identified SLD (Texas Education Agency, 2017). The rules and procedures by which students are identified with SLD affect an even greater number of students. As a result, the validity of these rules and procedures for identification must be considered as not just a legal and scientific question, but also as a question of fairness and access. 

This report summarizes research on the identification of SLD and makes recommendations for practice. The report begins with a summary of the legal requirements for SLD identification and what constitutes a comprehensive evaluation. It then discusses the attributes of SLD according to different conceptual frameworks and reviews research on the reliability and validity of different methods for SLD identification that emanate from these frameworks. The report concludes with recommendations for best practice, regardless of the specific identification methods employed.

Interested in Identification for Students With Dyslexia?

Drs. Jeremy Miciak and Jack Fletcher recently published an article in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, titled “The Critical Role of Instructional Response for Identifying Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities.” In the article, they address the “nature of dyslexia and best practices for identification and treatment within the context of multi-tier systems of support (MTSS). [They] review proposed definitions of dyslexia [and] empirical evidence for proposed definitional attributes, focusing on key sources of controversy, including the role of IQ, instructional response, as well as issues of etiology and immutability. [They] argue that current empirical evidence supports a dyslexia classification marked by specific deficits in reading and spelling words combined with inadequate response to evidence-based instruction. [The authors] then propose a ‘hybrid’ dyslexia identification process built to gather data relevant to these markers of dyslexia [arguing] that this assessment process is best implemented within school-wide MTSS because it leverages data routinely collected in well-implemented MTSS, including documentation of student progress and fidelity of implementation. In contrast with other proposed methods for LD identification, the proposed hybrid method demonstrates strong evidence for valid decision-making and directly informs intervention.”

Check out the preprint version of the article in the Download section at right.


Fletcher, J. M., & Miciak, J. (2019). The identification of specific learning disabilities: A summary of research on best practices. Austin, TX: Texas Center for Learning Disabilities.

Related Reading

Fletcher, J. M., & Miciak, J. (2017). Comprehensive cognitive assessments are not necessary for the identification and treatment of learning disabilities. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 32(1), 2–7.

Miciak, J., & Fletcher, J. M. (2020). The critical role of instructional response for identifying dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0022219420906801

Schneider, W. J., & Kaufman, A. S. (2017). Let’s not do away with comprehensive cognitive assessments just yetArchives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 32(1), 8–20.

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