Diagnosis: Law

Published 1998, Dyscalculia.org




Federal disability laws require universities to accommodate students whose learning disabilities make it difficult for them to complete normal degree requirements. In a case brought by 10 Boston University students, U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris, agreed that university graduation requirements for certain math and language courses placed an unfair burden on students with learning disabilities. Saris said that such requirements to produce a recent diagnosis of learning disability from a physician or psychologist in order qualify for special accommodations from the university, such as tutoring and extra time to complete tests and assignments, were "high hurdles" that placed emotional and financial burdens on disabled students. She ordered the university to accept diagnoses of learning disability from any professional with a master's degree in education (Chavez 1997).

LD ONLINE (2002): Who can diagnose SLD? by Kathleen Ross Kidder


    1. Standardized tests like the Wechsler Intelligence scales and tests of math ability are used to compare individual performance with majority peer group performance. The formula for calculating "Math IQ" is Math Q= Math Age divided by Chronological Age x 100. A score of 1-2 standard deviations below the mean (middle) score of the group is considered "deficient." A score of 70-75 is extremely deficient (CTLM 1986, 49-50).

    2. A dyscalculia diagnosis in pre-school age children can be made when a child cannot "perform simple quantitative operations" that should be "routine at his age (CTLM 1986, 50)."

    3. Developmental dyscalculia is present when a marked disproportion exists between the student's developmental level and his general cognitive ability, on measurements of specific math abilities (CTLM 1986, 67).

    4. Quantitative dyscalculia is a deficit in the skills of counting and calculating (CTLM 1989, 71-72).

    5. Qualitative dyscalculia is the result of difficulties in comprehension of instructions or the failure to master the skills required for an operation. When a student has not mastered the memorization of number facts, he cannot benefit from this stored "verbalizable information about numbers" that is used with prior associations to solve problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and square roots (CTLM 1989, 71-72).

    6. Intermediate dyscalculia involves the inability to operate with symbols or numbers (CTLM 1989, 71-72).

    7. Normal intelligent quotients range between 90 and 110, with 100 being the average. Scores above 110 are superior, and scores above 140 are very superior. The Educational Policies Commission estimates that 10% of the population has IQ's of 120-136, while only 1% have IQ's 137 or above (Cutts and Moseley 1953, 17).

    8. In 1937, Terman and Merrill published the following IQ classifications: 30-69, Mentally Defective; 70-79, Borderline Defective; 80-89 Low Average; 90-109, Normal or Average; 120-139 Superior; 140-169 Very Superior (Moore 1981, 41). Standard IQ distribution and standard deviations differ by test instrument and norm group. (a)(b)(c)

    9. Use discretion when basing important decisions solely on IQ scores, which can vary over time and across testing instruments. Fluctuations of 10 points have been seen in more than 3/4 of all students, 1/3 of student's scores fluctuate by 20 or more points, scores of 1/10 of students vary by 30 points, and a few have scores that change by as many as 45 points (Strang 1960, 16).


Three federal laws provide for accommodations for learning disabilities: the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the 1990/1997 Americans with Disabilities Act. More than 21,000 students each year get extra time to complete the SATs, and other entrance exams, because of diagnosed learning disabilities. Some enlist exam assistants to help fill out the answer sheets- if proven problems in recording exist. Special consideration should be given for learning disabled students despite poor test scores. Other university accommodations include: paid tutors and note takers, extra time to complete assignments and tests, and waivers for course requirements that are unreasonable due to the documented disability (Chavez, 1997).


ACCESS ERIC. 1995. What Should Parents Know About Performance Assessment? Parent Brochure. ACCESS ERIC. [online document] Available at: http://www.aspensys.com/eric.

Bagin, Carolyn B., and Lawrence M. Rudner. 1998. What Should Parents Know About Standardized Testing? Parent Brochure. ACCESS ERIC. [online document] Available at: http://www.aspensys.com/eric.

Center For Teaching/ Learning of Mathematics (CTLM). 1986. III. The progress of Dr. Ladislav Kosc's Work on Dyscalculia. Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics Volume 8: 3&4. (summer & fall edition).

Chavez, Linda. 1997. Look Out Harvard, Here I Come! E.W. Scripps Newspaper. Scripps Howard Broadcasting. [on-line article] Available at:http://texnews.com/opinion97/chavez082097.html.

Elliott, Steven N. 1995. Creating Meaningful Performance Assessments. Reston, VA: The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education and the Council for Exceptional Children. ERIC EC, Digest #E531. [online document] Available at: http://www.cec.sped.org/digests/e531.htm.

GUCKENBERGER v. BOSTON UNIVERSITY, 1997. Available at: https://www.leagle.com/decision/19971080974fsupp10611066

Karnes, Frances A. and Ronald Marquardt. 1997. Know Your Legal Rights in Gifted Education. Reston, VA: The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education and the Council for Exceptional Children. ERIC EC, Digest #E541. [online document] Available at: http://www.cec.sped.org/digests/e541.htm.

Knoblauch, Bernadette and Barbara Sorenson. 1998. IDEA's Definition of Disabilities. Reston, VA: The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education and the Council for Exceptional Children. ERIC EC, Digest #E560. [online document] Available at: http://www.cec.sped.org/digests/e560.htm.

NCES. 1997. Snyder, Thomas D., with production manager, Charlene M. Hoffman. Program Analyst, Claire M. Geddes. Digest of Education Statistics 1997, NCES 98-015. U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. [online document] Available at: http://nces.gov/pubs/digest97/98015.html.

Sharma, Mahesh 1989. How Children Learn Mathematics: Professor Mahesh Sharma, an interview with Bill Domoney. London, England: Oxford Polytechnic, School of Education. 90 min. Educational Methods Unit. Videocassette.

Sharma, Mahesh. 1990. Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Some Remedial Perspectives for Mathematics Learning Problems. Math Notebook: From Theory into Practice. no. 7, 8, 9 & 10. (September, October, November, & December).

Strang, Ruth. 1960. Helping Your Gifted Child. New York: E.P. Dutton & Company Incorporated.