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Specific Learning Disability Assessment in California: A Detailed Examination

In California, the assessment and identification of Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) are steered by both federal mandates and state-specific regulations. The California Education Code (EDC) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) lay the groundwork for these processes. This blog offers an in-depth exploration of the SLD assessment process in California, highlighting specific legal provisions and guidelines.

  1. Legal Definition of Specific Learning Disability

As defined by the California Education Code (EDC) Section 56337, an SLD is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in comprehending or using spoken or written language. This can manifest in various ways, including difficulties in listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or mathematical calculations.

  1. Initiation of the Referral Process

The journey often starts with a referral when there’s a suspicion of an SLD. EDC Section 56303 mandates that post-referral, the Local Education Agency (LEA) or school district has 15 calendar days, excluding extended school vacations, to provide the parent with a proposed assessment plan or Prior Written Notice (PWN).

  1. Composition of the Assessment Team

A multidisciplinary team, typically consisting of a school psychologist, special education teacher, and general education teacher, conducts the assessment. Depending on the student’s unique needs, additional specialists like speech and language pathologists or occupational therapists might join the team.

  1. Comprehensive Evaluation Process

The EDC Section 56320 mandates a comprehensive and individualized evaluation process, which includes:

  • Observations: Direct observation in academic settings.
  • Interviews: Structured discussions with parents, teachers, and the student.
  • Standardized Tests: Tools to measure cognitive abilities, academic skills, and other relevant areas.
  • Review of Records: An exhaustive look at academic, medical, and behavioral records.
  1. Determining Eligibility for Special Education Services

After the assessment, the team gathers to determine eligibility using EDC guidelines. The criteria encompass:

  • Evidence of a Processing Deficit: A clear disorder in one or more psychological processes.
  • Severe Discrepancy: A notable difference between intellectual ability and academic achievements.
  • Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses (PSW): An analysis of the student’s performance in relation to age, grade-level standards, or intellectual development.
  • Exclusionary Factors: Ensuring that the challenges aren’t primarily due to external factors.

While the severe discrepancy model has been a traditional approach, California is shifting towards the Response to Intervention (RTI) and PSW models for a more comprehensive understanding of a student’s capabilities and needs.

  1. The Advantage of Private Practice: Why Choose CDA?

While school districts offer valuable resources, there are distinct advantages to seeking assessments from private practices like CDA. Here’s why:

  • Neuropsychological Assessments: CDA provides neuropsychological assessments, a rarity within school settings. These assessments delve deeper into cognitive functions and can pinpoint specific areas of concern.
  • Expertise in Neurological Testing: Our team is credentialed in neuropsychology, allowing us to objectively measure conditions like ADHD. Most school districts lack this specialized capability.
  • Comprehensive Insights: With our advanced tools and expertise, we can provide a more holistic view of a student’s strengths and challenges, ensuring they receive the support they truly need.
  1. Development of the Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Upon meeting the eligibility criteria, an IEP is developed in line with EDC Section 56345. This document outlines the student’s current performance, annual goals, and the specific services and accommodations they’ll receive.

  1. Re-evaluation Mandate

IDEA and EDC Section 56381 dictate that students with an IEP must undergo re-evaluation at least every three years. However, conditions or requests from parents or teachers can prompt earlier re-evaluations.


Navigating the SLD assessment process in California requires a deep understanding of the legal landscape. While school districts play a pivotal role, private practices like CDA offer specialized expertise and tools that can provide a more comprehensive view of a student’s needs. Whether you’re an educator, parent, or stakeholder, it’s crucial to be informed and choose the best path for the student’s success.