Evaluating long-term outcomes for students with learning disabilities : does age of first services matter?



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Within the last few decades there has been a push to identify students who have or who are at-risk for learning disabilities as early as possible. Much of this recent focus is related to research showing the positive long-term benefits of early education for the general population and children in poverty, as well as to educational theory about early educational interventions. However, little to no research has been conducted on the long-term effects of age of first service provision for students with learning disabilities. Whether students with learning disabilities are doing better academically in high school or graduating high school at higher rates based on when they are identified or when they received services is yet to be known. This study analyzed data collected from families and schools for 2,000 youth with learning disabilities from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a study that investigated a nationally representative sample of approximately 12,000 students with disabilities. The present study used latent variable structural equation modeling (SEM) to investigate the effects of age of first service provision on high school educational achievement and high school graduation in order to better understand the long-term effects of the age of intervention for students with learning disabilities. Contrary to what was hypothesized, the age a student first received services for a learning disability did not statistically significantly affect his or her grades in high school or likelihood of graduating from high school. The age a student first received services for a learning disability was statistically significantly and positively related to standardized achievement tests in high school; however, the direction of causation was counter to what was hypothesized. Students who received services at a later age performed better on high school standardized achievement tests. An important limitation of these data is that measures of a student's cognitive abilities or the severity of a student's learning disability were not available for use in these analyses. Further limitations and possible implications of these findings are discussed.