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Dr. Manju Banerjee Publishes Study in Learning Disability Quarterly

by Solvegi Shmulsky

PUTNEY, Vt. – How do students who have a learning disability (LD) secure accommodations when they move from high school to college? Dr. Manju Banerjee, vice president and director of the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT), has published a study of how LD documentation is weighed by service providers in postsecondary institutions. Banerjee and coauthors Joseph W. Madaus and Nicholas Gelbar, both from the University of Connecticut, Storrs, explore issues with disability documentation, which ultimately affects which college students will be offered services. The article can be found in the February 2014 edition of Learning Disability Quarterly, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by the Hammill Institute on Disabilities.

From preschool through graduate school, individuals who have a condition that impairs learning, such as dyslexia, ADHD, or ASD, are legally entitled to reasonable accommodations so that they may make the best of their educational experience. Accommodations—like extended time on tests or electronic notes—are designed to level the playing field for students who learn differently. Not everyone who requests accommodations gets them, and Banerjee’s study looks at how postsecondary service providers weigh the relative importance of different components in making accommodation decisions, often relying on sparse or missing data.

The documentation that a student provides often does not include the information that an institution needs to provide appropriate accommodations. By presenting postsecondary service personnel with different models of documentation ranging from comprehensive to incomplete, Banerjee (pictured at right) and her coauthors were able to identify the relative value of historical, objective, clinical and diagnostic information in decision-making. They found that reviewer demographics can influence the review process, and that reviewers favored historical evidence of challenges in grade school and diagnostic information over test scores and clinical data.

Banerjee explained that the study illuminates a key factor in in the question of who receives LD accommodations. "This study is unique in that it revealed the relative importance of different types of data within documentation,” she said. “Our findings underscored that documentation review continues to be a subjective process that cannot be fine-tuned simply by tightening or loosening guidelines or practices." 

The devil is in the details: The highest purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to achieve equality by making schools, workplaces, and public spaces accessible to a range of citizens. Postsecondary accommodations are one example of the ADA at work, and Banerjee’s study shows that when LD documentation is lacking, the subjective judgment of reviewers often determines who gets help. Going forward, this work highlights the need for better alignment of documentation practices between secondary and postsecondary institutions so that all who are entitled to services can access them.

Find the abstract from Learning Disability Quarterly below:

Applying LD Documentation Guidelines at the Postsecondary Level: Decision Making With Sparse or Missing Data (Banerjee, Madaus & Gelbar, 2014)

Abstract: A key issue in fostering transition to postsecondary education for students with disabilities is documentation verifying the nature of the disability and supporting the need for services and reasonable accommodations. Documentation guidelines assist postsecondary disability service providers in making decisions about eligibility and reasonable accommodations. However, documentation is often varied in scope, comprehensiveness, and quality, requiring a great deal of professional judgment during the review process. This study examined service provider decision-making when presented with documentation of learning disability with varying levels of information. Results indicated service providers’ value comprehensive Objective Evidence, but importance of the data used in decision-making varied by demographic variables, such as years of experience and type of training in reviewing disability documentation. Implications for practice are addressed.

Landmark College was the first institution of higher learning to pioneer college-level studies for students with dyslexia. Today Landmark College, offering two and four-year degree options, a graduate level certificate in universal design with technology integration, and summer programs for students who learn differently, is a global leader in integrated teaching methods for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, ADHD, and ASD. Students, faculty, and other professionals from all over the world are drawn to Landmark College for its innovative educational model—designed through research and practice to help all students who learn differently become confident, self-empowered, and independently successful learners.

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