Specific Learning Disabilities

Minnesota uses the federal definition of Specific Learning Disability (SLD). SLD is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The disability may be exhibited as an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. SLD also includes conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. The current Minnesota Rule for SLD was adopted in September 2009:

Facts about SLD in Minnesota from 2018 statewide dataset:
  • Prevalence rates of SLD continued to drop since 2009 and are between the second- to fourth-lowest in the nation, including Puerto Rico and American Samoa. In 2017-2018 approximately 32,332 students were identified as SLD.
  • The majority of students identified as SLD are served in the regular classroom with special education supports.
  • The majority of students with an identified SLD take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment.
    •  Reading proficiency rates for students with SLD have been hovering around 10-11 percent.
      • 12 percent of students identified SLD increased in level of proficiency between third and eighth grade.
      • 39 percent of students identified SLD decreased in level of proficiency between third and eighth grade.
      • 49 percent of students maintained their same proficiency designation between third and eighth grade.
    • Math proficiency rates for students with SLD have been hovering around 13-14 percent.
      • 15 percent of students identified SLD increased proficiency between third and eighth grade.
      • 38 percent of students identified SLD decreased in level of proficiency between third and eighth grade.
      • 47 percent of students maintained their same proficiency designation between third and eighth grade.

Students with SLD are likely to benefit from Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that directly summarize data and instruction that increases their rate and level of learning towards grade level standards. Teams should become familiar with the Minnesota standards in learning progression format in order to make the logical connection between current level of functioning and grade level expectations. For more on how to do this see the standards-based IEP Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) Checklist.

Students with dyslexia may qualify for special education under SLD criteria

Students identified as having dyslexia may qualify for special education under SLD. A request for referral should never be denied based on an individual’s judgement that the child would not "qualify as SLD." Eligibility determinations are based on information gathered from a comprehensive evaluation.

Teams evaluating the student for SLD should feel comfortable using the diagnostic label of dyslexia when discussing the student and the data and any external evaluation that can be used to determine eligibility for special education services. Eligibility is a two-pronged decision: a) the student has a disability, and b) the student requires specially designed instruction and supports to access and make progress in the general education curriculum (meaning state standards). Not all students with a diagnosis of dyslexia will require specially designed instruction to access and make progress in the general curriculum; therefore, they would not qualify for special education services.

Teams should always include an evaluation for alternate educational materials and assistive technology supports when evaluating  a student with a reading difficulty. Include in the IEP or, when relevant, the 504 plan the alternate educational materials and assistive technology supports necessary to access the general curriculum.

Determining the Eligibility of Students with Specific Learning Disabilities

Minnesota has two options for determining eligibility for special education services. The first option is use of data determining below grade level performance, lack of response to well-designed interventions and a weakness in a basic psychological process that is consistent with low achievement. Some may refer to this as lack of response to intervention or identification through a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS). Districts do not have to apply or be approved to use eligibility criteria under a MTSS system; however, they must document their process in the Total Special Education System (for more information see Minnesota Rules 3525.1341, subpart 4). Many schools maintain use of discrepancy criteria for instances where data and application of an MTSS system are not in place and implemented with fidelity. Districts are not required to report which criteria they are using for eligibility; however, in a survey of 1,500 schools across the state only 20 percent of them report fully implementing MTSS (2018 MTSS survey results).

Rules and Statutes that are interdependent with SLD identification under MTSS

Minnesota Statutes, section 120B.12, Reading Proficiently No Later than the End of Grade 3. Components of screening, intervention, communication with parents are specified.

Minnesota Statutes, section 125A.56, Alternate Instruction Required Before Assessment Referral. Components of intervention and monitoring of progress are laid out under use of EIS funds.

Minnesota Statutes, section 125A.50, Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Supports, defines critical features in an MTSS system and provides a funding for Tier 2 supports.

Below is the technical manual designed to assist teams in making SLD eligibility determinations for students under the optional criteria adopted in 2009. It includes legal requirements, practical advice and theory that will guide teams in this technical process. The manual is provided on this page as individual chapters, by topic and number, for ease in reviewing or downloading.

Those interested in further training on the SLD manual should contact their local regional educational cooperative.