NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Learning Disabilities"

August 25, 1997

Being certified "learning disabled" is fast becoming a quick route to a diploma, according to a growing number of educators. They warn that this increasingly popular designation is discouraging students from building on their strengths, and encouraging them to get ahead by playing on their weaknesses.

  • More than 2.5 million children are now classified as having learning disabilities -- allowing them to benefit from federally-financed special education programs.
  • The federal cost of serving special education students -- about half of whom have learning disabilities -- is about $3.25 billion each year.
  • The way federal law has been interpreted, students with certain diagnosed learning disabilities are legally entitled to take tests without time limits, be provided with food and drink, and have assistants record their answers.
  • They are entitled to extensive free tutoring, help with note taking and explanations of test questions.

At some universities, learning disabled students are excused from difficult courses like math or foreign languages.

A federal judge ordered Boston University to reevaluate its policy of refusing to exempt such students from foreign language requirements and awarded six students a total of $30,000. Moreover, the school was forbidden to require such students to take tests to certify their disabilities.

According to the Department of Education, about 20 percent of American students have learning disabilities -- but only 5 percent have been diagnosed.

Critics of the current abuses say schools are just setting learning disabled students up for failure in later life.

Source: Robert J. Sternberg (Yale University), "Extra Credit for Doing Poorly," New York Times, August 25, 1997.


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