ADHD News & Research

“State of Learning Disabilities” Report Shows Lingering Disparity in Academic Performance

Children with learning disabilities are struggling in school more than their peers, says the annual report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, which also outlines concrete strategies for parents, educators, and lawmakers.

May 19, 2017

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) recently released its annual report, which finds that children with LD struggle in school significantly more than their peers do. The report, entitled “The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5,” combines the most recent statistics on learning disabilities with personal anecdotes and policy suggestions to holistically measure how children with learning disabilities fare across the United States. Despite discouraging academic statistics, the NCLD is optimistic — the report, it says, aims to shine a light on the high number of children with LD and introduce concrete changes to help them succeed in school and in life.

The title of the report references the 20 percent of American children who are thought to have learning disabilities —most commonly ADHD and dyslexia. Approximately 40 percent of children in special education have been diagnosed with a specific learning disorder, the report said — a classification that includes dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and auditory processing disorder. (ADHD is not classified as a specific learning disability under IDEA; rather, it often falls into the category of “Other Health Impaired.” About 14 percent of children receiving special education services have ADHD, the report finds.)

The report analyzes 2013 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and it finds that children with learning disabilities struggle significantly more than do children with other kinds of disabilities. In fourth grade reading scores, for instance, 69 percent children with any kind of disability scored below the “basic” level; meanwhile, 85 percent of children with specific learning disabilities scored below that level. The numbers for both groups are discouraging, said Sheldon Horowitz, the senior director of learning resources and research at NCLD — especially considering that just 27 percent of children without disabilities scored below “basic” — but the additional challenges faced by children with learning disabilities were especially concerning.

“The data suggest we’re not in a great place,” Horowitz said. He emphasized the importance of early intervention for learning disabilities, as well as strategies to help students keep up better with their grade level.

The report also outlines strategies for helping students with LD transition to life after high school — including tips for building resilience and encouraging a positive mindset — and policy recommendations at the state and federal level. The NCLD emphasizes the importance of public school funding, and rejects the push toward private school vouchers supported by some federal education officials.

“The earlier that we understand and can diagnose [learning disabilities], the sooner that we can provide appropriate supports,” said Mimi Corcoran, NCLD’s executive director. “We hope that after reading [the report], you will share our sense of urgency and optimism. Identifying struggling students early can make a huge difference, but we also believe it is never too late to help the 1 in 5 thrive in school, in the workplace and in life.”

Read the full report HERE.