How Do Teachers Identify Learning Disabilities in Secondary Education?

Teachers contribute their professional judgment in helping to identify students' learning disabilities.
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An improperly identified learning disability, or a learning disability that was never identified in the first place, can make a student’s secondary career an absolute nightmare. Though teachers are not in a position to diagnose students, they can often contribute their professional judgment and observations during the process of identifying what, if any, learning disabilities a student might have.

1 Assessment

Both traditional and specialized assessments can be used to identify different learning disabilities in secondary students. If students repeat specific kinds of mistakes on standardized tests, it might indicate some type of disability. For example, according to the University of Virginia Teacher Resource Center, students who often misunderstand test instructions could have an information processing issue. Further, according to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, there is a battery of psychological tests professionals can administer to test for specific learning disabilities.

2 Observation

Perhaps the teacher’s greatest tool in identifying a potential learning disability in a secondary student is her keen observations of that student’s performance and behavior. According to Jack Fletcher, et al, when teachers observe abnormal behaviors in students -- such as increased frustration or acting out or indifference towards material -- they should immediately conference with a school psychologist or counselor to determine if further observations might be needed in order to identify a learning or emotional disability. Because teachers often have daily contact with students at the secondary level, they are in a perfect position to not only observe individual behaviors, but also patterns in behaviors.

3 Interview

After identifying some repeated behaviors that could possibly indicate a learning disability, students often participate in an intensive interview with a student and that student’s guardians, as well as school psychologists and other care providers. Fletcher, et al, indicates that these interviews often spread out over several days and even months, as professionals work with students and their families to ascertain what, if any, learning disabilities the student might have, and how the student, her family and the school can best approach working to overcome that disability.

4 Consultation

Following the intensive interview, teachers and students often engage in follow-up consultations in which both parties assess the student’s progress. According to William N. Bender, teachers and students often develop something called an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, that helps to guide the teacher and student’s ongoing identification and assessment of the student’s learning disability. During these consultations, teachers and students work together to identify what progress the student has made in light of the specific disability.

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.