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Learning Disabilities

NASP Communiqué, Vol. 35, #3

November 2006

Transitioning High School Students With Learning Disabilities Into Postsecondary Education: Assessment and Accommodations

By Diana Joyce, NCSP & Eric Rossen

An understanding of learning disability criteria for postsecondary education can be important to school psychologists in several ways. First, school psychologists provide high school evaluations that include transition planning goals. Often school psychologists’ evaluations are reviewed by colleges when determining if students are entitled to accommodations. Therefore, it is important to be aware that the criteria for substantiating a learning disability in postsecondary institutions can be somewhat different from that of K–12 schools. Secondly, unlike intervention teams in high schools, postsecondary institutions depend on students to initiate and monitor their own educational services. Well-designed transition plans in high school can begin to foster the self-advocacy and self-monitoring skills students will need in college. In addition, school psychologists may be hired privately by colleges and universities or parents to provide evaluations specifically for postsecondary institutions, thus requiring familiarity with college-age assessment measures and criteria for documenting accommodation needs.

Prevalence of Postsecondary Students With Learning Disabilities

From 1988 to 2000 it is estimated that 6 to 8% of first-year students in higher education institutions had a disability (e.g., hearing, vision, health) with specific learning disability (SLD) being the fastest growing category. In 1988 SLD accounted for 16.1% of disabilities. That percentage increased to 40.4% by 2000. Other categories of disabilities (e.g., hearing, orthopedic, blind) decreased while some (e.g., speech) remained constant (American Council on Education, 2001; US Department of Education [USDOE], 2002). Students with disabilities are most likely to be males (52%) and the majority (60%) attend two-year institutions or less than two-year programs (USDOE, 2002).

Among college students with identified disabilities, it is estimated that 63% of those at the community college level and 40% of those entering universities will need remedial coursework. Many will require continued accommodations throughout their postsecondary education. The area most frequently requiring remediation is math followed by English. Remediation in these two areas is particularly important as the majority of students with disabilities report career interests in business, engineering, elementary teaching, and computer programming (American Council on Education, 2001; Venzia, Kirst, & Antonio, 2003).


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