Differential characteristics of learning disability subtypes classified according to patterns of academic achievement



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Texas Tech University


In an effort to identify and understand the features associated with homogenous subtypes of students with learning disabilities, Rourke and his associates grouped youngsters with learning disabilities according to the profile of skills these students demonstrated in oral reading, spelling, and arithmetic. Using the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT), these authors centered much of their attention on two groups: Group A, which showed a relative deficiency specifically in arithmetic, and Group R-S, which showed deficiencies in oral reading and spelling relative to skills in arithmetic.

Group A and Group R-S students were then compared across numerous additional measures. Although these groups were classified solely on the basis of their academic pattern, they were found to show contrasting profiles on measures of verbal and nonverbal skills, as well as on measures of socio-emotional functioning.

The applicability of these findings to psychoeducational assessments as conducted in public school settings is limited, however, by the use of test instruments in the research literature which are outdated and lack adequate validity. The purpose of this study was to replicate the identification of the Group A and Group RS subtypes of learning disabilities, but by using psychometric instruments that have adequate reliability and validity, and that are the most current versions available. Comparisons between groups across additional measures were also done to test predictions which follow from theoretical formulations offered by Rourke as to the underlying neuropsychological strengths and weaknesses differentially associated with the two groups.

This study involved an ex post facto method in which the psychometric records of approximately 360 students with learning disabilities were examined. All students attended public schools in a West Texas region. Thirty subjects were selected for inclusion in Group A and Group R-S (60 subjects total) based on academic profiles showing specific weakness in arithmetic or oral reading and spelling, respectively. Academic scores were obtained using the Woodcock-Johnson Achievement Test-Revised.

Comparisons of the two groups across numerous measures yielded partial confirmation of predicted outcomes. As expected. Group A students were found to show a weakness in nonverbal skills, relative to Group R-S. Also, a relative strength in verbal comprehension skills as compared to nonverbal skills was evident among Group R-S students. Contrary to expectations, no significant differences were found between the two groups on short-term memory tasks derived from the Digit Span subtest of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Third Edition. The groups also did not differ in the ratio of males-to-females or student chronological age at the time of initial referral for special education evaluation.

The two groups differed markedly on a measure believed to reflect the level of socioemotional functioning of students. Group A students were far more likely to have special education counseling services as part of their individual educational plan than were Group R-S students. This finding provides support for the connection Rourke believes exists between poor nonverbal skills and socioemotional difficulties.

Further research efforts are clearly warranted that focus on examining aspects of socioemotional functioning that discriminated between Group A and Group R-S in this study. Future researchers are encouraged to closely examine the criteria they use for the selection of students for groups designed to reflect Group A and Group R-S characteristics so as to obtain samples that are adequately representative of these subtypes.