Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Educational Specialist (EdS)



Committee Chair(s)

Courtenay A. Barrett


Courtenay A. Barrett


Gretchen Peacock


Donna Gilbertson


Students with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) account for approximately 40% of all students receiving special education services. Debate among professionals regarding the causes of SLDs and the most appropriate methods used to identify SLDs persists. This debate may be related to the increase in prevalence of SLDs since the implementation of special education law in 1975. There are three prominent theories regarding the cause of SLDs: (a) environmental theory, (b) biological theory, and (c) interactional theory. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows school districts to implement the following SLD identification procedures: (a) the IQ-Achievement discrepancy method, (b) response-to-intervention (RtI), and/or (c) alternative research-based methods, such as personal strengths and weaknesses (PSW).

This study employed survey methodology to evaluate the intersection between school psychologists’ beliefs about the cause of SLDs, their preferred practices, their actual practices, and their job satisfaction associated with assessment. School psychologists are one member of a multidisciplinary team aimed toward identifying children with SLDs and are estimated to spend nearly half their time in special education decision making. This study also evaluated the influence alignment between school psychologists preferred and actual practices have on their job satisfaction associated with assessment.

Findings showed that, similar to other professionals, school psychologists’ had varying beliefs about the causes of SLDs. Environmental beliefs were significantly correlated with a preference for RtI for SLD identification, while biological beliefs were significantly correlated with preferences for the IQ-Achievement discrepancy method and alternative research based procedures for SLD identification. Preferred methods of identification impacted all three identification methods, and beliefs about the cause of SLDs impacted actual PSW practices, above and beyond individual and school characteristics. Finally, greater alignment between preferred SLD identification practices and actual SLD identification practices was associated with higher levels of job satisfaction related to assessment. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.



Included in

Psychology Commons