There was a time when society didn’t have a word for “dyslexia.” People didn’t know what “learning disabilities” (LD) were or the best ways to teach kids to read or do math. But thanks to the work of pioneering researchers, there have been enormous advances in understanding learning and attention issues. Teaching has improved. More and more kids have educational programs that work. Advances in research and knowledge have helped countless students learn and succeed in life.
Today, the need for more research about learning and attention issues is greater than ever. Although brain scans have increased our understanding of how the brain works, we still don’t know the exact causes of LD. Schools are using new educational models like online learning, but we don’t fully understand how they affect students with learning and attention issues. We know kids with LD are expelled from school more often than other kids. However, we don’t know the full scope of the problem or how to fix it. It’s time to make a commitment to answering these questions and more through research.
“Research into the causes of and solutions for learning and attention issues must be a national priority and be funded appropriately.”
More Knowledge Means More Progress for Learning and Attention Issues
Reading issues like dyslexia were first discussed in the late 1800s. But knowledge grew slowly. Until the 1950s, few in the public knew of the science of learning and attention issues. Only doctors and scientists were talking about these issues. Finally, in the 1960s, the medical field recognized LD. At the time, students with LD were put in separate classes. Teaching wasn’t based on research and science.
The recognition of LD along with new civil rights laws in the 1970s began to open the classroom to students with learning and attention issues. In the 1980s, evidence-based teaching took hold. Phonics became an important part of reading instruction. Students once on the margins were now a focus. Public awareness of these issues grew. The 1990s saw the creation of school-wide approaches, like response to intervention. Schools started to target support to students and adjust it based on how kids responded. (View a timeline of learning and attention issues.)
Today, new technologies, driven by research, continue to change the student experience. Education innovations like charter schools and online learning have rearranged the classroom. Neuroimaging is showing us what LD looks like in the brain.
There’s a Lack of Information and Data in Many Areas
But even as knowledge has progressed, there are still big gaps in information and data about learning and attention issues. In some cases, data is outdated. In others, the available data can’t be compared or used. And sometimes, there are emerging issues that simply haven’t been researched yet.
Here is a sample of emerging issues where more research is needed:
- Response to intervention (RTI): What determines whether a school uses best practices with RTI? Which interventions are most effective for students with LD?
- Common Core State Standards: How will students with LD perform under Common Core? How many students are getting accommodations on the new Common Core tests?
- Online learning: How many students with learning and attention issues are enrolled in online learning? What are the results? What kinds of accommodations do students need?
- Juvenile justice: Are students in the juvenile justice system receiving the special education services they’re entitled to? What kinds of intervention work best to help students return to school?
NCLD Advocates for Research and Knowledge About Learning and Attention Issues
Research into the causes of and solutions for learning and attention issues must be a national priority. Here are the policies we advocate for:
- Teaching and Instruction Guided by Evidence
Teaching and instruction must be guided by evidence and science. Schools should be required to do what works for students, based on the latest educational research.
- Research Funding
Education researchers must have the funding they need to advance knowledge about learning and attention issues.
- Data Reporting, Sharing and Privacy
Schools, employers and others should be required to report data about individuals with disabilities. This data should be available to the public, with strong privacy safeguards for personally identifiable data. Researchers should have incentives to share data and make it usable.