Presumption of Self-Direction in LD students in Higher Education

Leading up to Self-Direction and Readiness in the Lower Level of Education

Hersey and Blanchard (1988) say that learners cannot be ready to learn if they are not motivated or willing to perform the tasks needed in a self-directing manner. Self-Directed Learners SDL must be self-managing (understanding of the significance of tasks and the intended outcomes), self-monitoring (understanding what is effective and having sufficient knowledge about established conscious strategies needed to make-appropriate decisions), and self-modifying (able to evaluate and adjust to constant meaning and changes) (Costa & Kallick, 2004). A self-directed learner who is empowered is more likely to participate in a two-year or four-year college (Berry, Ward, & Caplan, 2012).

According to Grow (1991), there are several presumptions made with regard to understanding a self-directed learner. Some of those assumptions are that self-direction is the primary goal of a secondary educational environment, that self-direction can be learned, and that self-direction is situational to learners and teachers. The problem with assumptions is that educators have not been able to specifically and adequately define what the self-directed learner looks like (Costa & Kallick, 2004). However, they do agree that a quality of a self-directed learner is a learner who is able to orient her/himself to the educational process at all levels, and that the inability of a learner to develop self-direction can be a serious limitation at the post-secondary level (Costa & Kallick, 2004; Grow, 1991).

Some good self-directed learning models exist. For example, Grow (1991) uses a Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) Model to show how teachers actively work with students to help them to become more self-directed. The stages of that model are:

Stage 1: Dependent Learner: A learner is solely dependent on an educator to provide immediate feedback on what, when and how to complete a task.

Stage 2: Interested Learner: A learner is motivated by the educator to begin goal-setting and developing learning strategies.

Stage 3: Involved Learner: A teacher facilitates the learning but in partnership with the student.

Stage 4: Self-directed Learner: The learners can work and function independently and is meeting expected outcomes.

In a traditional educational model, after students enter the classroom ready to acquire new knowledge, they progress through the classroom by moving from being scaffolded to making educational transitions, to meeting transformed outcomes (Tanner & Tanner, 2007; Baleghizadeh et al., 2010; Field, et al., 1998; Verenikina, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978). Shifting to the Lower Level of the framework, Grow’s (2001) Stages of Self-Direction are skills a student would develop in high school to be ready to begin a post-secondary education (Berry et al., 2012). See Figure 2.1, The Teaching and Learning Level.

Figure 2.1. The Teaching and Learning Level (from Chapter 1)

  • Stage 1 and Stage 2: Educator uses coaching and motivation methods to assist a student through the scaffolding process.
  • Stage 3: Learner moves forward and can transition from one learning goal to the next with limited assistance from the educator.
  • Stage 4: Learner becomes self-directed and can be successful in a post-secondary setting on her/ his own.

Beal (2005) places the burden of understanding one’s disability, their legal rights, and the securuing of the appropriate academic adjustments at the feet of the LD student. He lists five specific rights and seven responsibilities that students with LD have (Beal, 2005). The five rights are:

  1. To receive modifications on college entrance exams.
  2. To receive academic adjustments.
  3. To refuse to inform any PSI of any learning disability.
  4. To not have other’s ask for the disability to be identified.
  5. The right to be heard if it is believed any disability rights have been violated.

The seven responsibilities are:

  1. To become familiar with federal regulations that impact LD at PSI
  2. To understand what assistance is necessary to assist with specific LD
  3. To learn to effectively self-advocate
  4. To obtain documentation of LD
  5. To determine the availablity of support services
  6. To notify PSI of any LD
  7. To work with educators to address LD and unique accommodations

These rights and responsibilities presume that students have learned to be self-directing prior to enrolling in PSI (Beal, 2005). Grow (1991) calls self-direction the higher mental function that matures over time by and through a particular history and social interaction (p. 128). Unfortunately, most LD students are so busy learning the skills needed to move from task to task (Stages 1 – 3 of Self-Direction) in the classroom, that they are rarely, if ever, trained to be self-directed learners, nor are they trained to advocate for themselves as described by Beale (2005) (Hitchings, et al., 2010; Hitchings, et al., 2001). Such a situation creates a “catch-22” for the LD learner.

Full text: Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.


Significant Barriers to Self-Direction and Readiness

If Rebello (2007), Thorndike (1901) and Lave are correct in the notion that learning was taking what was learned from one situation to another, that it was the culmination of the similarity of situations, and that it would not transfer from one culture to another (Schwartz, Bransford, & Sears, 2005), then it is important to understand the linguistics and the behavior of the LD community. By understanding, proper theory can then be created to improve learning environments for LD students. As our messages help people to understand us (Derrida, 1997), our behavior and actions define us (Bruner, 1996), and our ability to be successful in our educations are based on how our lingistics are mapped to our behavior then, language as an independent object of study – vis-à-vis the LD student –must be evaluated (Chomsky, 1988).

Hitchings, et al. (2001) asks the question, “Can students describe their disability and identify possible accommodations that might be needed in the career path?” (p. 9). They state that students with LD have unique needs that have likely gone unmet while they were in high school. Let us return to Kelly again. Kelly can see her disability; she is obviously impacted by it, but describing it appears to be extremely difficult for Kelly.  Consider Kelly in two different scenarios:

Scenario 1: While in class with her non-disabled peers, Kelly often heard others discussing how easy it was for them to participate in class, how simple the exams were, and how little time they needed to study prior to a test. After the hours she had spent, attempting to understand, she could not imagine that learning was effortless. As an adult student, Kelly eventually confessed to a friend that she had finally gone to see someone regarding her learning issues, and the friend replied, “Well, if you get help, how is that fair to everyone else? You look smart. You are getting a college degree. Why would someone like you need help?  I do not understand what you are complaining about.”  Kelly could not forget that statement. What it implied to her was that her struggle, was less important than others, that somehow because she did not physically show her disability, that because she had not publically discussed her learning issues and because she was trying to get an advanced degree, that she was undeserving of any form of assistance.

Scenario 2: During winter break, Kelly returned home doubtful that she was going to go back to college. Her grades were average; her spirits were in the dumps. Her sister Melody, a beautiful eleventh grader with an easy 4.0 grade point average, and her mother, Barbara (an Human Resource manager), huddled in the kitchen snacking on ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches and drinking tea. Taking a deep breath and Kelly decided to tackle the situation head on.

“Mom, do you mind if we sit down and talk, alone?”

“Sure honey.” Barbara said, leading Kelly out to the front porch.

Melody, unperturbed, threw sandwiches on a plate and plopped down in front of the television.

Outside, Kelly sat with her face to the sun in an attempt to warm her body. Ready, she hoped, to explain what she was dealing with. Worried, her mother took the bench next to her and waited.

With an unsteady heart, Kelly began, “Mom, I am failing. I am not ready for college.”

“Failing? You make average grades. What are you talking about?”

“Mom, I do not understand. I do not understand anything.”

“You make average grades, that is normal to feel like you do not understand. What is it that you do not understand?”

“Class, Mom. I do not understand class.”

“You are just tired. College makes us all tired. You make average grades.”

“No, Mom. I mean I do not understand. I study forever and I still do not understand. I feel like a piece of Swiss cheese. I pack in all of this information, but still there are holes.”

Interrupting, Barbara took Kelly’s hands, “Kelly, no one gets everything. But you are ‘understanding’. Who made you feel this way?”

Reluctantly, Kelly decided to calm her mother’s frustrations. No. She was not ‘understanding’. But if she could not explain to her own mother, how was she ever going to make anyone else understand?

At some point, Kelly likened her experience with learning to Swiss cheese. She did, as Derrida (1990) and DeLanda (2000) have stated, learn language through the vehicle of: (1) the alphabet, then (2) parts of a sentences, then (3) a full sentence, then (4) paragraph construction and so forth. Kelly will test on information and, based on her grades, she does show average academic performance. Unfortunately, what Kelly is left to wonder is where in the Swiss cheese did this information go and why is she unable to find it on her own, express it to others, and use it the same way other students do?

Her communication issues are not only school-based; they impact her in all social settings. When speaking to her mother, the person who provided the most knowledge about terms and concepts to Kelly during her lifespan, she is unable to bridge the communication gap and express her struggles. Her mother saw her grades as evidence that Kelly was learning, but Kelly is focused on the word ‘understanding’ as evidence that she is not learning. In Kelly’s eyes, she not only has a language problem, she has a knowledge problem (Chomsky 1988).

Like Kelly, educators are having similar complications, and these issues are documented in reseach on curriculum development (Oliva, 2006). One example is with the use of the term “curriculum”. Educators are discovering that there is no agreed understanding/definition of the term (Oliva, 2006). The instability with the use of this term keeps educational groups from developing tangible, stable programs, because one academic program views and practices the term in one way and another program uses it another way (Oliva, 2006). What this highlights is that educators are training students to learn language based on non-ontogenetic theory (language as sign and symbol), while they are utilizing or being confounded by ontogenic principles (language as a specific and unique organism that is worthy of study) (Oliva, 2006). With educators struggling to use or adequately promote one concept over the other, how do they expect students, like Kelly, to be able to communicate where and how they struggle, and become self-directed learners (Lind, 2008)?

What is language? Willard van Orman Quine (1908-2000), renowned philosopher, from Harvard University surmised that language was nothing more than a social art in which meaning is attributed to individual objects, nothing more than a series of symbols, only useful for the purpose of communication (Quine, 1960). This is a very simplistic and rather uncomplicated paraphrasing of his work, but what the philosopher candidly espouses is the ideology that language as a biological norm is a fallacy because it is merely a rigid object in motion (Quine, 1960).

Enfield (2010) argued that the non-existence of language assumption is based on insufficient investigation that relies on the ideology that accepts that the biological function of language is not realistic because it has not been proven false and that the philosophy of language as a social art is merely a generally accepted principle. What Enfield is saying is that theorists, like Quine and Derrida, are arguing that the biological function of language is not realistic. Their argument this based on two principles:

(1) that the biological function of language is philosophical or inside a persons head, and therefore cannot been proven false, and

(2) that the philosophy that language is a tool used by a group of people that allows them to communicate, it is accepted, but in a broad way and therefore cannot be defined or proven wrong.

He went on to further note that it is impractical to study the arithmetic capacity of an individual by looking at a massive statistical analysis of what happens on the inside of someone’s head (Enfield, 2010, p. 24). Barbara was looking at Kelly’s academic performance as evidence of her internal perceptions, while Kelly was looking at her ability to obtain and maintain information, thus a language problem between Barbara and Kelly.

Language is a function of the entire body and worthy of its own study. Language is a series of cognitive functions, that – when taken separately – has other functions connected to it (Enfield, 2010). Like Enfield, Chomsky (1988) believes in the ontogenesis of language and with such asks the questions, “What are the properties of any specific language?” How are those properties acquired? and Why do those languages have those properties and not others?” Students with learning-differences (LD) access some properties of language but not others. Why is that (President’s Commission on Excellence in Education, 2002)? Educators need to investigate this in order to determine if this complication is a barrier to the LD student’s ability to become self-directed.

Full Text Citation:

Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.

Problems for the LD Student Continued…

Problems in secondary educational settings

Regardless of the approach, educators need to begin asking if students are mastering, connecting, sustaining, engaging, and feeling culturally connected to the material (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Pace & Schwartz, 2008). Unfortunately, since learning disabilities were discovered, the focus on fixing issues within a secondary setting has been on behavior modification either through assimilation (refusing to remove the child from the classroom or their peers) (Hogan, 2005) or through segregation techniques (Adelman, 1978), removing the child for a period of time to learn skills separately from their peers.

Studies have concentrated on specific problems that impact the LD community (Hogan, 2005). These studies include writing and self-regulation (Sadler, 2006), parent- tutoring interventions (Gortmaker, Daly III, McCurdy, Persampieri, & Hergenrader, 2007), inclusion methodologies (Hogan, 2005), self-determination interventions (Konrad, Fowler, Walker, Test, & Wood, 2007) and even career development (Hitchings, et al., 2010). Individuals with LD are defined as having some problem that interferes with their ability to process information (Thomas, Louis, & Sehnert, 1994), which forces researchers to ponder how those students approach knowledge (Onachukwu, Boon, Fore III, & Bender, 2007).

Regrettably, while studies have confirmed that interventions can work temporarily, there have been no interventions that have been proven to work long-term (Onachukwu et al., 2007; Vaughn & Bryant, 2002; Viel-Ruma et al., 2007; Willem, 1999). Willem (1999) documented the progress of students who had:

(a) significant learning difficulties in acquisition, organization and expression, (b) poor performance in reading, writing and spelling, (c) significant discrepancy between their potential to achieve and their actual achievement, and (d) learning disabilities that were not visual, auditory or motor (p. 25).

LD students appeared to make progress in the beginning but could not sustain that success after the intervention was concluded.

Vaughn and Bryant (2002) determined, after a three-year comprehension intervention to increase the skills set of English language learners with LD, that the intervention could increase the rate of reading but not the level of accuracy or comprehension. Viel-Rama et al. (2007) followed the progress of three students who participated in a study that was designed to determine if self-correction could help disabled students struggling with written expression. He, too, discovered that students were unable to continue to progress, once the intervention was finished (Viel-Ruma et al., 2007).

To understand LD individuals, researchers must look more at the population outside of the traditional student. Educators must consider the vast number of factors that could potentially impact all individuals with LD (Levine, 2002). Interventions must also be designed to meet the goals of the curriculum and flexible enough to get the LD student to participate and continue to utilize the intervention independently long after it concludes (Levine, 2002).

Research has also shown that individuals with disabilities have high periods of exclusion, both social and physical (McDonald, Balcazar, & Keys, 2005). These high periods of exclusion are theorized to be a result of the disabled person being discouraged from independent actions or thoughts based on a desire of “well meaning” family members to keep them “safe” from a perceived negative attitude of the public and other peers (McDonald et al., p. 493). As a result, according to McDonald et al., (2005), youth with disabilities have limited prospects. They lack the desire to pursue higher forms of education, they often struggle through underemployment, and they show low levels of engagement in their surroundings (McDonald et al., 2005). With so many variables (from educational theory to approaches to knowledge, and varied LD intervention) impacting the secondary education, educators cannot be precise about what each student, specifically each LD student, knows when he or she leaves the secondary environment (Sadler, 2006).

LD students in post-secondary institutions (PSIs). When learning about colors, most people learn the differences by comparing one color to another. They place a blue next to red or yellow and ascertain which is the color they need, based on the other colors that they have before them. However, when a person wants a specific type of “red”, or “blue”, they must evaluate that color to colors in the same hue. Research on LD is very similar. In an effort to identify students with LD, these students are compared to their non-LD peers (Danforth et al., 2010). This is helpful in establishing a beginning model of what the LD student looks like, but LDs need a continuum for reference by scholars and educators that is purposely centered on LDs, not to simply be compared with non-LDs (Danforth et al., 2010).

The term “essence” is a word that is important to the discussion of LD students, because these students are geographically, culturally, racially, economically, socially, educationally and developmentally separated from one another, but are struggling to learn in a post-secondary educational setting (Cortilla, 2011). This “essence,” or shared experience, is by some definitions philosophical, as in there is no solid evidence pointing to why/how this ”shared experience” occurring, nor is there any evidence that there is a “shared” cognitive/biological function that links LD students to each other (Hock, 2012). Individuals are only placed into the culture based on their difficulties, and even though this experience is definable, defendable and has with it a specific set of characteristics, the culture that is being evaluated is a culture of “what is not”. This means that what is not considered “traditional” is nontraditional or what is not “able” is disabled (LDA, 2008).

With regard to current curriculum development and educational practice, one could almost view the adult student with LD as twice marginalized. Research has shown that some LD students are able to develop coping mechanisms that keep them on par with other students in post-secondary environments, but little is understood about how these students have been able to succeed (Crokett, Parrila, & Hein, 2006). LD students begin and end their secondary educations with skill sets lacking in the type of critical thinking that is required to show and prove knowledge and learning (Cortilla, 2011; Kenner & Weinerman, 2011).

In a search of US colleges, it was discovered that most colleges promote the fact that they address all learner types in their efforts to promote their colleges (Pimlott, 1951). These schools promoted multiculturalism and equal education for individuals with disabilities, but unfortunately all were subjective to the individual schools and there were no solid standards, norms or rules (Weerts, 2011). These issues were further complicated, because many colleges failed to develop an understanding between what they wanted their students to learn and the proper atmosphere needed to promote that level of understanding in a diverse way (Brookhart, 2011).

In consideration of new legal, social justice and ethical challenges that will impact post-secondary educational environments in the coming years, a key issue that will impact PSI directly is whether or not the education that is being provided is equally accessible (US Supreme Court, 2004). “Accessible” is a term that is interchangeable with the term “open” (Honig, 2006). For colleges, this is a way of stating that their post-secondary setting has an open admissions policy, which means that it will accept a variety of students regardless of race, social economic standing, disability status, or gender (Honig, 2006). But the terms “open” and “accessible” are not synonymous with the term “equal” (Pinhel, 2008).

Banks (1998) noted that developing a proper multicultural/multifunctional education needed to be a top down process, and Brugha and Varvasovsky (2000) stated that without that type of approach, systems were not sustainable. A multicultural education is important, because it has been proven to boost the academic performance of all learner types, including learning-differences (LD) (Banks, 1993). If the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 is going to be successful as a policy, there need to be stipulations regarding how to create a multicultural environment for PSI on the national level that is explicitly designed to educate diverse learning populations (110th Congress, 2008; Chung, 2007/8; GOA, 2009; Honig M. I., 2006).

Honig and Rainey (2011) have determined that school improvement begins with understanding cultures with regard to what they do and then developing educational programs that provide those cultures with familiarity of their own culture. This is how educational systems have been developed throughout time: a set of researchers watches a culture, evaluates what they appear to do to learn, and then encorporates that system of understanding into the practice of education (Banks, 1993). LD issues have been outlined and noted. Unfortunately, legislation, regulation and policy efforts have merely outlined problems; they have yet to fix them (Brookhart, 2011).

Full Text Citation:

Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.

Problems for the LD student in Educational Settings

Education Pedagogy

Research tells us that children come to the learning process at varying levels of understanding (Marzano, 2001). According to Gardner (2006), people understand the world through language, reason, interactions with the environment, music, problem solving with the body, socializing, and our ability to understand ourselves. Gardner (2006) felt that our strengths were different but that we were defined by our ability to progress through various situations. Vygotsky (Gagne et al., 2005) believed that learning was a social function, whereby individuals learned through their interactions with more capable and skilled peers. Vygotsky viewed learning as a process that was gained by using prior knowledge (which can be considered simple) to gain new understanding through their interactions with others, which can be complex (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 116).

Professor Gordon L. Shaw (1990) made many contributions both to physics and to the theories of memory and learning. According to Shaw, behavior is “persistently responsive to the authority of the senses” (Shaw et al., 1990, p.117). Shaw’s theories contributed to the multi-sensory approach to learning, teaching and parenting (Shaw et al., 1990). Though this research was highly simplified by the media, it provided another option for educators, parents and students (Shaw, et al., 1990). Professor Shaw studied how music impacted education and the brain, and thus the Mozart Effect®/Movement as developed in the United States. The Mozart Effect® was the notion that you could increase a child’s IQ by playing classical music. Parents across the United States began playing classical music to infants in the womb and toddlers to increase mental acuity.

Caine, Caine, McClintic, and Klimek (2005); Erlauer (2003); Jensen (2005); Slavkin (2004) would add that the best way to connect a student to learning would be through brain-based learning methods. Two brain-based studies that have been completed in the last fourteen years have been the Partners Advancing the Learning of Math and Science (PALMS) approach that was conducted in an urban school in the Massachusetts school district (Fuller, 2001) and a cooperative learning project that was completed at Valdosta State University, in Georgia (Hertzog & Lieble, 1994).  An evaluation of the studies informed that the PALMS study presented evidence that – because the brain-based approach provided additional time in the schedule for teachers to monitor and assist students with individual issues as they arose – it aided in the learning potential of those children (Fuller, 2001). The Valdosta report found that outcomes did not differ between groups that used cooperative learning strategies and those that used traditional learning techniques (Hertzog & Lieble, 1994). This is relative to the LD learner because this learner is expected to adapt to whichever theory is utilized in the classroom, regardless of his or her deficits or individual learning style.


According to Darbyshire (1993), the distinction between pedagogy and andragogy is an illegitimate assumption that has not (at the time) been fully or fairly evaluated. Lind (2008) states that one issue with educating adults is that there is a rush to put all the educational needs of the adult population into one basket. Lind also states that educators often are more focused on literacy over skills or skills over literacy, because students have specific priorities that need addressed and those proprieties (which include things like putting food on the table or affording tuition) take precedence over the curriculum (Lind, 2008). He, however, is critical about ideas that one should not supersede the other.

Adult learners are typically seen as using the following functions to understand:

  1. Incidental: They gather information by being near the information source (English & Irving, 2007).
  2. Formal: They are willing to receive information from an instruction of their own free will (English & Irving, 2007).
  3. Cognitive: They process information through the scope of their own personal lens (Hynes & Hynes-Berry, 1994).

Whether through incidental, formal, or cognitive processes, a student in the post-secondary setting is presumed to be able to be a self-directed learner (Lind, 2008; Rebello, 2007). Again, an LD learner does not necessarily follow this pattern of learning.

Learning Readiness: Problems for the LD Student

Students with disabilities have become the fastest growing population in post-secondary institutions (Hitchings, et al., 2010). In addition to the various kinds and severity of some LD, as well as LD characteristics that impede the decision-making process (Hitchings, et al., 2001), students have difficulty developing the skills listed because of one of the following reasons: (a) in their high school years they were often pulled out of goal-setting programs in order to address their learning needs or (b) they are forced out of making decisions for themselves by teachers and parents (Hitchings,et al., 2010).

Several assumptions are made within educational theory (Gardner, 2006). Those assumptions are (1) that there is no consideration for brain isolation due to brain damage,  (2) that there could not be an alternative evolutionary history to words or language, (3) that all core operations are present and identifiable to most students, (4) that all students are susceptible to encoding, (5) that there is a distinct developmental process that every child will follow, (6) that exceptional individuals exists, and (7) that tests can highlight patterns important to the every learner population (Gardner, 2006).

Schwartz et al. (2005), wrote of a meeting that took place with superintendents. This group was asked what they wanted their students to learn (Schwartz et al., 2005). Unanimously, the group determined that they wanted students to “learn for themselves” and from that learning they wanted those students to make informed decisions (Schwartz et al., 2005, p.2). Nelson et al., (2007) said that the superintendents’ comments were pre-conceived notions that would be difficult for children to break away from.

Broudy (1968) outlines three ways of knowing: replicative (replicate), applicative (apply), and interpretive (interpret) (Schwartz et al., 2005, p. 8). Broudy concludes that the problems with most educational systems are that educators focus on replicative and applicative knowing over interpretive knowing (Schwartz et al., 2005, p. 10). For interpretive knowing information to be assessed, a team of individuals who understand a particular curriculum have knowledge about the student body and have the time to evaluate the information must come together in order to determine the root cause of the lack of growth (Marx, 2006). Again, this is relevant to the LD student because they are required to adapt to whatever theory is applied in the PSI setting, regardless to whether or not he/she is able to learn this way.

Full Text Citation:

Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.

Introduction to Barriers at the Administration Level

A continuation of LD History using the fictional character Kelly

LD policy history in the United States

While the history of LD dates back to the 1800’s, in the US, students with learning issues did not receive consideration from the law until 1969 with the passage of the Children with Specific Learning Disabilities Act, which was included in the Education of the Handicapped Act of 1970, Public Law, Part G. Following, in 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), that defined the terminology “specific learning disability” and provided students with funding and services. In 1990, the law was renamed the IDEA and it was re-authorized in 1997, 2004, with final authorization for the 2004 policy implemented in October of 2006.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) was signed into law on August 14, 2008 (110th Congress, 2008; Pinhel, 2008). Approximately 1,200 pages in length the HEOA is a re-authorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) (Longanecker, 2008). The goal of the original Act, the HEA created under the Lyndon Johnson Administration, was to provide equal access to higher education, because access to education would have provided access to opportunities that not all Americans had (Longanecker, 2008). The HEOA of 2008 produced 64 different programs, which included individuals with disabilities because, prior to HOEA, some students with specified disabilities could not get certain types of Federal aid for formal transition or living-skills programs (GOA, 2009; Pinhel, 2008).

The US Department of Education (2009) noted that the objective of accredited programs are to guarantee that institutions of higher education provide an acceptable, quality education to their student populations. However, with differing standards on how individuals should be educated (Bloom, 1956; Boss, 2000; Levine, 2002), it has become increasingly difficult for students with LD to function in K-12 programs and then to transition into post-secondary institutions (PSI) (Cortilla, 2011).

These legal changes brought State assessment and standards, requiring educators to prove that students were meeting specific standards or to show why students were unable to meet those standards (Costa & Kallick, 2004). The most well known of these policies was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB and Other Elementary/ Secondary Policy Documents, 2008), now titled The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (, 2011). This law threw the education debate into the spotlight, because the pressure to create college, vocational, and/or job ready students by the end of 12th grade was handed down by the government and further mandates were made to federal funds (NCLB and Other Elementary/Secondary Policy Documents, 2008). Unfortunately, schools are not required to incorporate the scores of some students with LD, which makes it difficult to determine if and how all students with disabilities are being served (President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002).

By the year 2010, with the Obama Administration, emerged the concept of Common Core. The Common Core is considered by the Administration as a literacy effort to ensure that all students are able to become self-directed learners who can, without “significant scaffolding”, grasp, comprehend, evaluate, convey and construct complicated multifaceted information, and that they can understand, articulate and build upon previous concepts and principles without prompting (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012).

Returning to Kelly’s story, this history is important because it helps to highlight how difficult it is for a person like Kelly to effectively express her issues, to develop successful coping mechanisms, and to participate in general activities, such as organizing her notes, in a manner similar to her peers. Kelly was dependent on her teacher to provide her with the instruction. She lacks independent thinking and processing skills, she is not grasping written information from the syllabus or from with her notes, she is not comprehending information during study groups with her peers, and she is unable to convey these difficulties to others so she can get additional assistance.

On average, students with LD are 3.4 grade levels behind their peers in reading and 3.2 grade levels behind their peers in math (Cortilla, 2011). This is a significant barrier for these students. Kelly may have made it to college, but she is still facing an uphill battle with regard to understanding the standards that are required at her current academic level and without help it is likely that Kelly, and students like her, will drop out (Cortilla, 2011). This is such a problem that only 28% of students with an LD that enter college actually graduate (Cortilla, 2011). For this reason, looking back at how we educate student populations is important in determining how to address and create the appropriate changes (Banks, 1993), and allows more LD students to succeed (graduate).

Full text:

Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.

Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience


Current American post-secondary education policy involves the uniform education practices that are marginalizing students with learning-differences (LD) (Lind, 2008). Although LD students are considered in specific ways in American post-secondary curricula, many LD students do not make sufficient progress to be prepared for post-secondary education. Undergirding this study are cognitive and educational theories, because research has shown that both have an impact on an individual’s ability to parse language and navigate the rigors of the traditional classroom. By identifying LD characteristics, this research study seeks to examine self-identified LD students’ perceptions of barriers that impact their ability to process information, achieve learning outcomes, and manage their degree to completion.


          Sometimes a problem within a culture is difficult to describe. However, describing such a problem has the potential to break down barriers that were once thought necessary. Those descriptions have the potential to create additional “tears” in an already broken community (Foucault, 1984). One “breaking point” is the inability of some to stay on course to become college-ready. It is reported that learning differences LDs affect one out of every five people in the United States, and that as many as one million children between the ages of six and 21 (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) have LDs. Unfortunately, expressing each set of differences creates boxes and labels that typically only fit a few individuals (Council on Postsecondary Education, 2012; Crokett, Parrila, & Hein, 2006; Lyon, 1996).

Consider describing an LD through an analogy called the Alphabet Soup Party. At the Alphabet Soup Party, the host of the party is providing the soup, but everyone needs to bring a bowl and a spoon. Most people come equipped with a bowl and a spoon, eat with those, and partake as they wish. For the LD student, one or more of the following will likely occur:

a)     They do not bring a bowl.

b)    They forget the spoon.

c)     They come with a fork or knife or ladle.

d)    They have a bowl and a spoon but pour the soup on their head.

e)     They have a bowl with a hole in it.

f)     They come with just their hands.

g)     They bring a plate.

From personal experience, having an LD can be easily misinterpreted by an educator. One result of this misinterpretation may result in making an example of a student or, in one memorable (personal) case, of shaming a student into compliance, or noting to an entire class that, “She is trying to be a comedian by making such a mistake on a spelling test!” Being shamed in such a way can be traumatic for a person on the receiving end, making it all the more difficult for a student. Having an adequate response to such shaming is not something that can be provided in these kinds of circumstances for various reasons. One such reason is that emotional and mental pressure can force a person to forget everything they have attempted to learn that week, and possibly the things they learned that year (even many of the years before). In some ways, this dissertation was birthed in that shame.

A clinical perspective can provide insight into specific LD issues; however, the purpose of this dissertation is to provide the personal and educational perspective of the student with learning-differences (LD). To assist with that understanding, the fictional character Kelly has been created to provide a personal account of experiences a person might have who is coping with an LD.

          Kelly’s story. It had been one long and tedious week. Kelly was not sure how much strength she had left after her trip to Margo’s Market to pick up some Henry Bakers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. Now back in her private room, Kelly held the pint of ice cream in her hand, her teacher’s words echoing over and over again in her head “Try reading it out loud or just give yourself more time. You will get it eventually.”  Every teacher she had had since grade school seemed to think that she was not taking enough time, and that she was not using every single brain cell she had.

Tears cascaded down her face as Kelly tapped the cool container to her head. She thought of all the time she had spent in the writing center. All that energy, and still the red marks in the margins of every writing assignment seemed to blur from one comment to the next, “This does not fit here. What did you mean when you wrote this sentence? It is disorganized. You need to go to the tutor for assistance.”

Rising to peer out the window, Kelly wheezed a heavy sign of exhaustion and placed the ice cream on the windowsill beside her. She knew that it was not just her English class that was distressing her. She thought about the late hours she had spent copying her science and social studies textbooks from cover to cover, the re-copying of her notes and her friend’s notes before that last nearly-failed test, and the late hours she had spent with the study group.

She had to just be feeling sorry for herself, she thought. Was she not? But that ice cream was the final straw. Smirking at it, Kelly thought aloud, “You were supposed to make me feel better. If that stupid store had not been changed around; if that stupid company had not changed its packaging, I might be eating something great right now.” Frustrated, Kelly pitched Mindy Magnus’ Non-Dairy Chocolate Tofu ice cream into the trash.

A History of LD Education in the United States

Samuel Kirk, a professor at the University of Illinois, created and defined the term “learning disability” as a disorder(s) in a person’s ability to progress developmentally with language, speech, reading and other communication pathways. Kirk is credited for developing the foundation for the way the LD phenomenon would be described in the United States (Danforth, Slocum, & Dunkle, 2010). However, learning disabilities go as far back as 1867, when German schoolteacher Heinrich Stötzner created a school for children who learned slowly (Opp, 1994). In his work with learning disabilities, Opp (1994) lists a series of German and French scientists known for their research on various types of neurological dysfunction. Neurologists work resulted in a presumption that a person with a learning disability had some difficulty within the brain (including damage or physical illness) or as a result of some type of brain and body disconnection (Opp).

It was this cognitive foundational research that led American scholars to classify individuals fitting certain behavioral patterns as “disabled” (Opp, 1994). The terminology “disabled” helped lead to legislation that provided protection and support to those suffering with an LD under The American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), reauthorized in 1997 and 2004 (Cortilla, 2011). The reauthorized ADA broadened the definition of the term “disability” set in section 504, and it developed new regulations in Title II, The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) (Cortilla, 2011).

In the past 40 years, LD students’ post-secondary access has increased for many students, but the ratio of degree completion has not improved (Brock, 2010; Equal Access Education v. Alan Merten, 2004). Brock (2010) states that one area where national higher education systems need to look is remedial education. Students typically placed in remedial education programs are students who are non-traditional, those in underrepresented populations and, students attending less selective universities and students in community colleges (Brock, 2010). Underrepresented and non-traditional populations include categories of persons based on their gender, race and ethnicity, age and disability (Brock, 2010; Cortilla, 2011). It is reported that 42 percent of students in underrepresented groups at community colleges, and 12 to 24 percent of students at four-year universities, are in at least one remedial course (Brock, 2010; Cortilla, 2011). Unfortunately, few of these programs have been assessed in a way that creates a connection between reform and academic attainment (Brock, 2010). This is especially true for students with LD (Cortilla, 2011).

Levine (2002) noted that the memory required to complete schoolwork was more strenuous than virtually any other career a person will have during their lifetime. He also stated that the extensive use of the memory during the schooling years is imposing a considerable burden on today’s youth (p. 91). Additionally, Nelson, Palonsky, and McCarthy (2007) discuss the hidden elements in the curriculum, calling them the “silent values that rule the entire curriculum structure” (p. 234). That is, curricula for the traditional learner include certain elements that are not translatable to the LD learner (Pace & Schwartz, 2008). Those implicit, or hidden elements are: mastery, connectedness, sustainability, engagement, and culture (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Pace & Schwartz, 2008). The terms are defined as follows:

Mastery: ability of the learner to grasp  and establish command of the curriculum.

Connectedness: a linking of the to the learner either through sequence, coherance, idea, or through complementary learning style.

Sustainability: the ability of the learner to keep the information after it has been learned.

Engagement: ability of the learner to bring themselves emotionally and mentally into the process of learning.

Culture: the ability of the learner to apply reflective thinking based on cultural or learned experience.

While reviewing issues surrounding the development of a curriculum for LD students in post-secondary institutions (PSI), it is clear that a key issue facing the development of new ideas was centered in politics. Whose interests were being met (Nelson, Palonsky, & McCarthy, 2007)? For example, what interests needed to be met (Oliva, 2006)? What interests will have to be maintained for the continued success of any curriculum (Tanner & Tanner, 2007)?

Nelson, et al. (2007) explained that, at times, administrators in school systems try to serve too many interests at once. In doing so, they serve no one at all, which is especially problematic for the student with LD (President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). How do PSIs sort through the interests of so many groups and at the same time meeet the need of LD students to become strong academic learners? The effective planning and implementation required to design educational programs and curricula that target students suffering with LD, without interrupting the learning of non-LD students, starts with understanding where the problem is and where it is not.

          Learning-Differences. Nationally, a Learning-Difference (LD) is currently identified in the Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA) under the term Specific Learning Disability (SLD) (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991). This term, based on Title 20 of the United State Federal Law (U.S.C. § 1401 (30)), is defined as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations” (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991, p. 3).

Individuals with LD are also defined as having some problem that interferes with their ability to process information (Thomas, Louis, & Sehnert, 1994). Levine (2002) outlines ten steps that individuals will face when they need to solve a problem. One of Levine’s steps was the realization that there was a problem (p. 198). Pace & Schwartz (2008) note that it took the US educational agencies roughly one hundred years to establish LD programs at the post-secondary educational level, and that the emphasis of those programs was on “fixing learners” as opposed to fixing a curriculum. There is sufficient evidence that students with LD are facing barriers that keep them from becoming college-ready and self-directed (Cortilla, 2011; President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). Unfortunately, the perception of how LD students feel about the way their LDs impact their ability to perform at the college level has not been systematically evaluated.

Although PSIs are reevaluating how they view a student’s overall work (Daiker, Jeffrey, Stygall, & Black, 1996), measuring such knowledge is limited in post-secondary institutions (PSI) for a variety of reasons (Cortilla, 2011; Levine, 2002; President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). An individual suffering from an LD must show that the impairment meets two specific definitions: 1) they must have “a major activity hindered” by the disability, and 2) they must be “substantially limited” in their ability to complete that activity (Rothstien, 1998).

What does it really mean to have a “major activity hindered” or “substantially limited”?  In the context of Kelly’s story, manifestations of her LD are apparent. She is forgetful; she struggles with environmental changes, such as new decorations or new arrangements in a favorite grocery store. She is not keeping up in class, and she is spending a great amount of energy, in her study time, trying to keep up with her peers. However, does Kelly have the ability to adequately show that her condition is significantly hindering and limiting in her relationship to her peers? Providing evidence is problematic for her.

Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.