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Curricular modifications for elementary students with learning disabilities in high-, average-, and low-IQ groups.

Abstract. Students considered gifted and learning disabled (G/LD) are those most at risk of not being adequately served in U.S. schools. This research compares delivery formats and Individual Education Plan (IEP) modifications offered to 1,055 elementary school students, grades

3-5, who qualified as having a learning disability (LD) at different levels on the intellectual spectrum. Archival assessment and IEP documents determined the proportion of students with LD who demonstrated high, average, and low intellectual abilities, and the modifications, accommodations, and services they were offered. Multivariate analyses examined group differences in identified modifications. Although current research indicates that children who are G/LD receive the same modifications as their average and below-average LD peers, students in the higher scoring intellectual group received significantly fewer modifications in two of the four evaluated categories (namely, delivery and evaluation). Modifications failed to address areas of strength and/or giftedness of students who were LD but also demonstrated high intellectual ability. Group differences in educational planning showed that students who had high intellectual ability and LD differed from their peers who demonstrated low and average intellectual ability with LD. However, it is not clear whether the resulting differentiated programming that occurred in practice was the appropriate educational approach for this group of children.


Every student possesses areas of strength and weakness, yet some students embody such a broad discrepancy between their above-average intellectual strengths and debilitating weaknesses that they become part of a unique population currently referred to as gifted/learning disabled (G/LD). Several issues can hinder these students' full potential. A learning disability (LD) may mask a student's gifted abilities or, conversely, a student's gifted characteristics may disguise a learning disability (Baum, 1994; McEachern & Bornot, 2001; Norton, Hartwell-Hunnicutt, & Norton, 1996; Olenchak, 1994; 1995; Sattler, 1992). Although early identification is extremely important, it becomes increasingly difficult because of: 1) the student's diverse strengths and weaknesses and 2) the unique interaction of the two (Reis & Ruban, 2004). This interaction ultimately may yield three serious problems for educators and other professionals: talents are camouflaged by LD to the point that the student involved receives no special attention for giftedness, problems are masked by strengths and no special accommodations for LD are provided, or no special services for either giftedness or LD are provided (Olenchak & Hebert, 2002).

Interest and concern about students experiencing G/LD has increased, and the focus of such research has shifted over recent decades. Early work served to convince the field that students could simultaneously embody gifted characteristics and LD. As the field turned its attention from basic acknowledgment of the existence of a population of learners with G/LD and identification of these students, it began to look toward understanding the importance of adaptation strategies, compensation strategies, and enrichment to allow the student to expand beyond the remedial approach used for simply correcting the learning disability (Baum, Emerick, Herman, & Dixon, 1989; Baum & Owen, 1988; Fox, Tobin, & Schiffman, 1983; Gallagher, 1983; Whitmore & Maker, 1985). A growing body of research about this unique population of students has suggested that this heterogeneous group must receive uniquely differentiated programming if they are to reach their full potential (Baum, Cooper, & Neu, 2001; Nielsen, 2002).

As a result of extended and deeper knowledge concerning the needs of students experiencing G/LD, one would hypothesize that this unique group of students could be better served in the public schools. It is curious that the related services needed by students with both gifts and LD have seemingly remained absent from the public school system (Newman & Sternberg, 2004). Indeed, investigators have reported that vast numbers of these students are not being properly served (Baum, 1994). Baum and Owen (2004) asserted that "students diagnosed as learning disabled who also exhibit superior abilities are typically offered the same remedial menu as their average-ability, learning disabled peers" (p. 11).

Types of Students With Gifts and LD and Their Needs

Basically, there is no formal definition that has addressed the simultaneous joint considerations of characteristics of giftedness and learning disability. However, researchers have voiced a generic definition of this population as students (or adults) who demonstrate exceptional ability or talent in at least one area (realized or potential), while at the same time experiencing specific academic problems as a result of underlying processing deficits (Dole, 2000). Throughout the literature, there appears to be a general consensus that the student who is G/LD falls into one of three categories. Interestingly, assessment practices essentially produced the resulting three groups, with each group of students experiencing their unique challenges and needs: 1) students identified only as gifted but also having subtle LD, 2) students not identified as gifted or experiencing LD, and 3) students identified as only experiencing LD but also having gifted tendencies (Baum, 1994; Olenchak, 1994).

Unfortunately, as programs developed, a unified definition of these individuals did not emerge. In addition, implementation of necessary changes within the public school districts has been slow and inconsistent for those students who are both high ability and experiencing LD. While the student who has both gifts and LD has unique characteristics and traits that dictate special affective needs, his or her academic and intellectual needs are unique as well. This is not a homogeneous group and should not be considered as such. Research has shown that these students need a variety of programming options to encourage them to grow and reach their valuable potential appropriately, including teaching them compensation strategies and providing opportunities for enrichment and focusing on the students' gifts and interests (Olenchak & Reis, 2002; Reis & Ruban, 2005).

Educational Programming for Students Experiencing G/LD

Recent research has addressed major issues related to identification and programming for students with G/LD (Newman & Sternberg, 2004). For the most part, students with G/LD have been viewed as belonging to either one group (i.e., gifted students) or the other (i.e., students with LD), but not to both. This parallels identification procedures, criteria, and educational programming options established in state and federal laws. The simultaneous existence of both conditions' characteristics, however, complicates the issues of identification and programming. Teachers have not been trained to recognize the broad range of characteristics that may manifest themselves in students experiencing G/LD. Assessment tools and procedures are widely available for identification of students with LD, but often do not include references to students who could also demonstrate high ability.

Students experiencing G/LD often have strengths that mask their weaknesses, thus creating average rather than superior performance (Baldwin & Vialle, 1999). Consequently, a diagnosis of LD is not made. Disabilities create discrepancies in testing, which is most often used as the criterion for qualifying as having a learning disability (Brody & Mills, 2004; McCoach, Kehle, Bray, & Siegle, 2004). Disabilities often depress test scores and prevent these students from attaining the gifted services for which they would otherwise qualify and which they need. Negative or difficult behaviors that so often accompany students with LD may also create bias in teacher nominations. Decades of research have shown that the students who are G/LD require instructional arrangements that are different from those developed for students representing one or the other group only (Baum, 1994; Baum et al., 1989; Baum & Olenchak, 2002; Baum & Owen, 2004; Olenchak, 1995). However, it does not appear that the call for differentiated programming has gone unheeded, as indicated by practice in the field.

Individualized Education Programs

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) mandates implementation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for eligible students with disabilities. An IEP is a written plan for a student with a disability who will receive special education instruction. IDEIA (2004) reports that "special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a student with a disability..." ([section]300.39 (a) (1)). The law goes on to explain that students require appropriate adaptation in the areas of content, methodology, or delivery ([section]300.39 (b) (3)) as well as the area of evaluation ([section]300.320 (a) (6)). The four mandated domains--instructional, methodological, delivery, and evaluation--are addressed individually in this study.

In general, the instructional modification domain represents a very small group of adaptations that may be recommended for a student who needs special education services. These specific modifications refer to curriculum content and state-mandated standardized testing situations. The domain of methodology consists of individual modifications that represent specific approaches to learning as well as environmental structure. Behavioral approaches and general learning strategies are found in the methodology domain. The group of accommodations that constitute the domain of delivery modifications is the largest of the four areas. Specific delivery modifications are those that address what the teacher and individuals working with the student will actually do in the classroom or educational environment. Specifically, environment, pacing, directions, and so on are the focus. The domain of evaluation, as it indicates, represents specific modifications that will be implemented when the student's learning outcomes are judged. Specifically, alternate forms, modified tests, formats, grading adjustments, and so forth are the focus. The participating districts used these four domains to structure the development of students' IEPs. These same four domains provided the logical structure for this study.

Rationale for the Present Study

Considering the years of study and discussion concerning the unique needs of the students with LD who also demonstrate high intellectual ability, the overarching concern is: Has the daily practice of teachers in schools throughout the United States been affected by advances in understanding students experiencing G/LD? This question is addressed through an exploration of how young students who are identified as having LD while also demonstrating high intellectual potential are being served in the public school setting. As earlier hypothesized by Baum (1994), it makes sense to expect that program opportunities for students experiencing G/LD would have improved in the last several decades. The current research study first identified ability levels of students experiencing LD along the intellectual spectrum. Additionally, differences in the numbers of differential formats and academic accommodations for elementary students with LD at the various levels in the intelligence spectrum were examined. This analysis compared the three groups across the four federally mandated domains with respect to the number of instructional, methodological, delivery, and evaluation modifications.

The literature in the field has not provided evidence that high-ability students with LD are provided for any differently in general education than their average or below-average peers with LD. The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics of, and curricular modifications provided for, students with LD who function at various levels of the IQ spectrum. Specific research questions were:

1. What proportion of students identified by the school district as having LD meets the criteria for inclusion in a low, average, or high intellectual ability group? Further, what are the general characteristics of the students in each group?

2. To what extent do the numbers of instructional, methodological, delivery, and evaluation modifications differ for high-, average-, and low-ability students with LD?



The participants in this study were elementary students from two suburban school districts in the southwestern United States who were identified as having LD. The districts were selected to conform to the ethnic and socioeconomic status representation criteria that were similar to the state parameters in Texas. The districts' databases were used to identify students in grades 3-5 who qualified as having LD, according to IDEA (1997) and Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines (2004). Students who are in K-2 frequently do not exhibit a large enough gap between their potential and achievement to qualify for services. As they reach the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, the need for specialized services tends to become more evident (Schiff, Kaufman, & Kaufman, 1981). Thus, only students in grades 3-5 were included in the present study. These criteria resulted in a preliminary sample of 1,055 students. Students' IQ scores were used to create three ability groups (high, average, and low) (see Procedures). All recorded intelligence scores were considered for group placement. Students with no recorded measurements of intelligence were eliminated from the sample (n = 4). In some cases, multiple ability scores were available. Students falling into multiple categories (i.e., middle and high or middle and low) due to a spread in multiple assessment scores were placed into the high or low group, according to their highest or lowest score. Students who fell into both the high and low group simultaneously were eliminated from the sample (n = 6). Thus, the final sample used in the analyses was N = 1,045. Demographic data organized by group assignment are presented in Table 1.


Researchers collected archival data from the audit folders of students, grades 3-5, who qualified as having LD in the participating districts. Students' special education audit folders were examined to analyze the most recent testing results used in the qualification (or re-qualification) process for program services. A data collection form was designed to record information pertaining to cognitive and achievement testing scores as well as curricular modifications designed for each student.

Data Collection. Four researchers collected and verified the curricular modifications designed for individual students obtained from students' audit folders. Data collectors were trained to record curricular modifications by examining audit folders--specifically, IEP documents. As the two districts that participated in the study employed slightly different document structures, data collectors were trained to locate all curricular modifications in the documents and record them in one of the four areas established by the state (instruction, methods, delivery, and evaluation). The areas of inclusion had been previously established by the districts and the data collectors indicated how each modification was designated in the documents. Each modification that was used received a code number to create a shared list of modifications between the two districts. This step allowed modifications that utilized slightly different terminology to be recorded in a consistent manner. In order to ensure inter-rater agreement among the four data collectors, 10 practice folders were completed in a group meeting to ensure that all identified modifications were recorded on the data collection sheet. Inter-rater agreement at the level of 100 percent was attained for the initial training of data collectors, indicating that all identified modifications were located and recorded in the appropriate areas. Data collectors cross-checked every 30th folder, to ensure consistency. Establishing and maintaining high levels of inter-rater agreement through the methods described helped ensure the integrity of this research study. Results of the data collection were used to compile a database that contained all recorded information for all participants. All data remained confidential, as the students were only identified with researcher-assigned code numbers.


Intelligence Tests. The intelligence tests utilized by the participating districts varied by student. The tests included one or more of the following: Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children--III (WISC III--verbal, performance, or full scale), Comprehensive Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (CTONI), Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test (UNIT), Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (KABC--Sequential, Simultaneous, Mental Processing Composite, and Non-verbal), Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (KBIT), Woodcock--Johnson III Test of Cognitive Abilities (WJ-III--Cognitive Battery), and the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales (SB4). Reliability and validity of the standardized assessment instruments administered to obtain these scores varied, yet all have been widely accepted in the field of education and, more specifically, have been approved by the State of Texas and the participating school districts as appropriate measures for identifying students with LD. All tests are scaled with a mean score of 100 and a standard deviation of 15 points. This allowed for appropriate comparisons for the purpose of Special Education qualification. Therefore, no score adjustments were required by the researchers.

Curricular Modification. A total of 110 possible curricular modifications were recorded. In the IEP documents that were developed by the districts in accordance with IDEIA (2004), these variables were divided into the four domains of curricular modifications (instruction, methods, delivery, and evaluation). Instructional modifications included such items as content modifications of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) or reduced/modified TEKS. Methodological modifications included such items as multi-sensory approach, materials/tests read to student, and positive reinforcers for positive/appropriate behaviors. Delivery modifications included such items as oral directions, cues and prompts, repeated review/drill/practice, extended time for assignments, preferential seating and checking for understanding. Evaluation modifications included such items as modified test format, materials/tests read to students, oral tests/oral responses, and small-group assignment.

Data Analyses

IQ Scores and Group Placement. Based on the analysis of the data collection form, participants were identified as demonstrating high, average, or low levels of intellectual ability in terms of the following criteria:

High ability: A standardized IQ score [greater than or equal to] 116.

Average ability: A standardized IQ score of 85-115

Low ability: A standardized IQ score [less than or equal to] 84

Many researchers oppose the strict cut-off scores that eliminate many students who are potentially G/LD from gifted services due to test score depression effects (Baldwin & Gargiulo, 1983; Brody & Mills, 1997; Silverman, 1989). The same researchers support lowering the cut-off score for qualification to a gifted program; however, there is no consensus on the exact number to use. Due to ability masking and test score depression (which are prevalent in students with both gifts and LD), the decision was made to divide the current participants by one standard deviation above and below the mean on standardized intelligence measures. As there was no indication that any of these students had been tested for gifted programs, nor identified for the districts' gifted programs, their position along the intelligence spectrum was subjective.

A forced trinomial frequency distribution of IQ scores was created to establish the participants' group assignment (high, average, and low ability). All recorded intelligence scores were considered for category placement. The Test for Significance of Difference Between Two Proportions (Bruning & Kintz, 1987) was used to determine if there were significant differences in ability group membership.

Curricular Modifications. The Univariate Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was used to examine the between-group differences in the number of curricular modifications (i.e., instruction, methods, delivery, and evaluation) among the three ability groups. To reduce the possibility of a Type I error, the Bonferroni Adjustment (Girden, 1992) was used to establish a more stringent a priori level of statistical significance (p = 0.0125) for testing the research questions. Eta Squared is reported as the effect size for between-group analyses. In instances of significant group differences, post-hoc analyses were conducted using a Tukey test to determine the specifics of the group differences.


Division of the Intelligence Spectrum

The distribution of participants across ability groups was positively skewed. While 67 percent (n = 708) fell into the average-ability group, those above and below this level were not evenly distributed. Students assigned to the high-ability group represented only 11 percent (n = 112) of the sample and students assigned to the low range constituted 22 percent (n = 225). This difference was statistically significant [z = 1.55, p < .05]. While all 112 students in the high-ability group were receiving special education services under the state law, there was no indication of any time spent in a gifted placement noted on the IEPs.

As shown in Table 1, the number of students identified as having LD increases with each subsequent grade level. One would expect this pattern as more students are identified and served each year in the elementary schools. The number of students with dual or multiple eligibilities increased as the ability groups moved down the intelligence spectrum. Fifty-two percent of the low group reported dual or multiple eligibilities; 42.7 percent of the average group reported dual or multiple eligibilities; and 31.2 percent of the high-ability group reported dual or multiple eligibilities. Irrespective of group classification, speech eligibility was most frequently associated with LD eligibility. Interestingly, the high intellectual group reported almost twice the percentage (9.8 percent) of "Other Health Impairments" (which includes but is not limited to ADHD) when compared to the other groups (low group = 4.9 percent, and average group = 4.4 percent). The difference was statistically significant between the average and high groups (z = 2.24, p < .05).

Males were increasingly represented from the low to the high-ability groups. The male/ female ratio in the low-ability group was approximately 1.5:1, 2:1 in the average-ability group, and 2.4:1 in the high-ability group.

Between-Group Comparisons of Modifications

Between-group differences of curricular modifications (i.e., instruction, methods, delivery, and evaluation were analyzed using Univariate ANOVA. Descriptive and inferential statistics for these analyses are presented in Table 2. Ranges show that in each of the four domains, at least one student did not receive any modifications. As modifications are differentiated, it is the nature of LD that some students will not need all areas modified. All ability groups had similar high end ranges in each of all the domains. Numerically, the high-ability group received fewer total modifications (combining all four domains) than either the average or low ability. Statistical analyses were conducted on the individual domain areas. There were no statistically significant between-group differences for the instructional domain ([F.sub.2,1042] = 3.042; p = .034) and the methodological domain ([F.sub.2,l042] = 1.122; p = .326). There were, however, statistically significant between-group differences in the delivery domain ([F.sub.2,1041] = 10.719; p < .0001). Post hoc analyses revealed that, in the delivery domain, the high IQ group was significantly different from both the low group (p < .0001) and the average group (p < .0001). In other words, the high-IQ group received fewer modifications in the delivery domain as compared to both the average-IQ group and the low-IQ group. The average and low groups were not significantly different from each other (p = .227). Statistically significant between-group differences in the evaluation domain ([F.sub.2,l042] = 7.147; p = .001) were also discovered. Post hoc analyses relative to the evaluation domain reveal that the high-IQ group was significantly different from both the low group (p = .001) and the average group (p = .002). In other words, the high-IQ group received fewer modifications in the evaluation domain as compared to both the average-IQ group and the low IQ group. The average and low groups were not significantly different from each other (p = .496) in this domain.


The current study analyzed and compared the modifications identified for various ability groups of students already diagnosed as having LD. Although the researchers agree that there are many areas of giftedness beyond intellectual, such as leadership, artistic, and performance, for the purposes of this study, the sample was confined to examining intellectual potential only. The current research study contains objectives on two levels. First, the identified participants were placed in an ability level group along the intellectual spectrum. A demographic picture of the three ability groups (e.g., low, average, and high) was developed. Second, differences in the numbers of differential formats and academic accommodations for elementary students with LD at various levels in the intelligence spectrum were examined. This analysis divided the modification areas into the four stated domains, as determined by the school districts participating in this study.

Division of the LD Sample Into Three Groups Based on the Intelligence Spectrum

As the sample was divided into the trinomial distribution of low, average, and high intellectual ability groups, the divisions were set along the criteria of [+ or -] one standard deviation of 15 from the mean IQ score of 100. If the distribution of participants across ability groups was normal, approximately 68 percent of the students would have been included in the average category; 16 percent in the low category; and 16 percent in the high category. The results, however, did not reflect the normal distribution. The resulting distribution was positively skewed, with a majority of students demonstrating average and below-average ability, and a much smaller proportion demonstrating a high ability. As a side note, although the students identified as high ability may not qualify as gifted under the participating school districts' guidelines for identification of giftedness, they were being associated with having intellectually gifted characteristics for the purposes of this study. Students with IQ scores of >115 were considered as sharing characteristics similar to those experiencing G/LD in an attempt to capture their programming and educational needs. Due to test score depression (Brody & Mills, 1997), grouping students who could potentially be G/LD is a difficult task. We chose to group students this way to err on the side of the students' needs. Therefore, the assumption to address possible strengths or giftedness in students identified as LD is acknowledged for the high-ability group, as these students are divided in the present study.

The number of students in the high-ability group does not necessarily reflect the high numbers of students experiencing G/LD that the research suggests exists (Ruban & Reis, 2005). However, the concepts of masking, test score depression, and those students experiencing G/LD and never identified with either exceptionality most likely make up the numbers not seen in this study's sample. In addition, the literature suggests that many students who struggle in school, but maintain levels at or above average, are not identified (Newman & Sternberg, 2004). The resulting positive skew in group membership (i.e., away from the high end of the intelligence spectrum) supported the possibility that some students masked their difficulties well enough to keep themselves out of the programs from which they might benefit. As suggested by the literature, potential students may not be included in this high intellectual, LD group due to multiple factors. Students may not initially be referred for special education assessment if classroom teachers cannot recognize their masked weaknesses or struggles. Students may fail to qualify, due to scores that are at or above grade level. Some may already be in the gifted program, and so their gap between ability and performance is not wide enough to gain attention or does not result in functional limitations in the classroom or educational needs (Olenchak & Hebert, 2002). Regardless, it appears that some of these students with LD who would be on the high end of the intelligence spectrum are absent from this sample.

When developing a demographic profile of the groups, additional exceptionality qualifications emerged as an area for discussion. The number of students with dual or multiple eligibilities increased as the ability groups moved down the intelligence spectrum. Speech eligibility was most frequently associated with LD eligibility across the spectrum. Interestingly, the high intellectual group reported a higher percentage of "Other Health Impairments" when compared to the other groups and was statistically significantly different than the average group (z = 2.24, p < .05). Other Health Impairments (OHI) is a category that is often made up of difficulties associated with the three types of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (dominant inattentive, dominant hyperactive, combined). Interestingly, research indicates that, often times, these OHIs are inappropriate labels and that the placement of high-ability students with LD in appropriate programs could eliminate some of the behavioral issues (Baum & Olenchak, 2002).

The ethnic distribution of the participants closely parallels the district population numbers. Both the low- and average-ability groups included higher numbers of Hispanic than white students; this finding is in contrast to the state percentages. The high-ability group, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly white. For example, a general profile of students in the high-ability group would be white males in 4th or 5th grade, with a fifth of them receiving speech services. The average group is generally white or Hispanic males in 5th grade, with a third receiving speech therapy services. The low group is generally represented by white, Asian, or Hispanic males in 5th grade, with almost half of the students receiving speech services.

It is important to recognize that the 112 students assigned to the high-ability group are an essential group to consider. Considering all the difficulties in identification of G/LD, this study revealed a group of 112 students who reflected one of the three groups of students experiencing G/LD, specifically those with LD who may also demonstrate gifted characteristics (specifically, high intellectual ability) (Baum, 1994; Olenchak, 1994). Recognizing that some of these students are being identified in special programs allows further evaluation and program planning to take place. It is necessary to remember that, for their qualification as LD, these students were failing in some area in school. That failure is why they were referred for special services and it is the purpose of special education program to provide the support needed for success. By identifying these students and delving into their ability levels and individual needs, we can begin to address their unique needs. Although it is not certain, there was no indication in any of the IEPs that any of the 112 high-ability students had been referred to or tested for the gifted programs. There was no reference to a gifted program indicated on the records that specified time spent in daily or weekly placements. This is an important area for further study.

Curricular Modifications

Decades of research have shown that students experiencing G/LD require instructional arrangements that are different from their gifted (non-disabled) and disabled (non-gifted) peers (Baum, 1994; Baum & Olenchak, 2002; Baum et al., 1989; Baum & Owen, 2004; Olenchak, 1995; Reis & Ruban, 2005). As earlier hypothesized by Baum (1994), it would make sense that program opportunities for students experiencing LD would have improved in the last several decades. The literature suggests that high-ability students with LD are not often provided for any differently in the general education field than their average or below-average peers with LD (Baum & Owen, 2004). Our findings provide some qualification to this body of research.

IDEIA (2004) has separated the areas of curricular modifications into four groups: instruction, methods, delivery, and evaluation. In assessing the mean number of modifications used in each of these domains, we found modest support for between-group differences. While modifications to instructional and methodological domains were not statistically different across ability groups, statistically significant differences emerged for modifications in the delivery and evaluation domains. In both areas, the scores for the high-ability group were statistically significantly different from both the low- and average-ability groups.

As discussed earlier, Baum and Owen (2004) asserted that "students diagnosed as learning disabled who also exhibit superior abilities are typically offered the same remedial menu as their average-ability, learning disabled peers" (p. 11). It appears that the students with high ability and LD in the two suburban school districts that participated in this study are offered modifications at a different rate than their peers with LD who function at the average and below-average levels of IQ. Despite the statistical analyses reported, a simple visual analysis of the data suggests that the high-ability group does receive fewer modifications across all domains than the average or low-ability groups. The differences in delivery indicate that teachers are addressing high-ability students with LD in a differentiated way in the classroom.

This difference is potentially a positive outcome, as the literature stresses that the LD students are not a homogeneous group and they need differentiated treatment (Baum, 1994; Brody & Mill, 1997; Olenchak, 1995; Whitmore & Maker, 1983). However, the main differences found are that the high-ability group, in general, received fewer modifications than the other two groups. Fewer modifications may be a potentially positive outcome if, in fact, the high-ability group needs fewer modifications. However, this may be a potentially negative outcome if the high-ability students were receiving fewer modifications because they were viewed as needing less help in the classroom. For instance, would the students in the high-ability group benefit from re-teach or retest opportunities or placement in a small group testing environment? Results demonstrated that no student in the high-ability group received either of these modifications. The underlying meaning of the resulting differentiation is beyond the scope of this study and warrants a more individualized follow-up analysis. From the available data collected, it is not possible to determine if the modification differences that emerged are positive or negative.

Not knowing the actual appropriateness of the resulting program planning, additional avenues of study are undoubtedly advised. At the very least, the results of this study highlight the need for attention to an often overlooked group of high-ability students with learning disabilities. As demonstrated in research, we know that the high-IQ group is unique (Baum, 1994; Baum & Owen, 2004; Olenchak, 1994; Ruban & Reis, 2005). We also know they need differentiated programming (Baum, 1994; Baum & Olenchak, 2002; Baum & Owen, 2004; Olenchak, 1995; Reis & Ruban, 2004, 2005). The current study found that the students with high intellectual ability and LD received fewer curricular modifications. These differences were statistically significant in two areas identified in IEP documentation. Perhaps it would be advantageous to analyze the special education programs and potentially identify some of these high-ability students as gifted learners. It would be important to evaluate whether this group is receiving fewer modifications because they are viewed generally as needing fewer interventions than their peers, who also have LD, but who fall into the lower ability groups. This study offers a unique ground level insight into existing program practices that reflect research-based needs of this unique population of students. Expansion on an individual level would require personality and characteristic data beyond the scope of this study. However, now that we know these students experiencing LD and potential giftedness are actually receiving differentiated programming, the next step would be to assess the appropriateness of the individual educational programs that are developed on an individual basis.

It is impossible to determine whether this differentiated planning is a positive or negative indication for the individual students when analyzing the group data. Answering these questions would require conducting an additional study addressing the individual programming for each student with both high intellectual ability and LD. The large sample of students in this study limits the ability to delve into individual programming. However, the group differences in educational planning are evident. These differences support the literature that indicates these students do not need to be seen as part of the general population of students with LD. The programs for students who have both high intellectual ability and have LD in this study were developed differently than programs for peers with LD at other intellectual levels. It is encouraging that students with both gifts and LD are seen as a group separate from their low- and average-ability peers with LD. However, it is not clear that the resulting differentiated programming is the appropriate approach for this group of students. It remains an area of concern for the field.

Implications and Conclusions

Educators need to expand their conceptualization of students with LD to include those who also possess superior skills or strengths in other areas. Many educators cannot grasp that a student can be G/LD and, consequently, students with high intellectual ability and LD are rarely identified and often poorly served (Brody & Mills, 1997). Districts have an opportunity and responsibility to define the modification approaches in such a way that strengths and weaknesses can be identified in every student referred to special programs. The first step is to identify correctly all students who qualify as having LD, while simultaneously using the qualifying criteria to recognize strengths. Next, educators are challenged to accept the responsibility for educating the whole child, including development of the strong areas of ability, as well as remediation in the areas of difficulty. Consequently, these students may have the best possible chance for successful experiences in the public school setting and for fulfilling their lives beyond school. Without such appropriate programming, these individuals, as well as society, suffer. Unfortunately, it still seems necessary to convince the majority of the educational establishment that students can simultaneously be G/LD. Within the public school system, few programs focus on the whole child, and more work needs to be done in this area (Reis & Ruban, 2005).

When students are not appropriately identified and the subsequent programming does not meet their needs, the individual loss of achievement could be immeasurable. In addition, vast amounts of individual and collective human potential can be wasted. We are living in a time when problem solving and creative thinking skills are in high demand. As educators, it is our job to provide students with the opportunities to reach high levels of potential, which requires addressing the whole child.

Although it is impossible to estimate accurately the number of students possessing both gifts and LD currently in our public school system (Bees, 1998), this population is by no means insignificant. Nearly 25 years ago, Whitmore and Maker (1983) estimated that of the identified population of students with LD, approximately 120,000180,000 students also could have been classified as gifted. Allowing for the explosion of growth that public school systems have experienced and the overwhelming increase in the identification of students with LD, the amount of creative and intellectual thinking and productivity grows as well. One study suggested that as many as 36 percent of students with LD simultaneously demonstrated behaviors that may be associated with giftedness (Baum & Owen, 1988).

The scope of appropriate services for students experiencing G/LD is vast and multifaceted. By delving into the group differences through various methods of inquiry, the present study helped to gain an initial understanding of the curricular modification provisions with students who have an LD and are at different levels of the intelligence spectrum. More work needs to be done in this area. Making generalized statements about appropriateness of differentiated modifications is simply outside the scope of this study. Further research is needed to answer the multitude of questions that this initial study has suggested for future exploration.

The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers of this piece, who provided valuable feedback.


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Courtney Crim

University of Texas at San Antonio

Jacqueline Hawkins

Lilia Ruban

Sharon Johnson

University of Houston
Table 1
Demographic Information for the Three Ability Groups of
Students With Learning Disabilities


Variable Low (a) Average (b) High (c)

 Male 137 (60.9%) 470 (66.4%) 79 (70.5%)
 Female 88 (39.1%) 237 (33.5%) 33 (29.5%)
 White 71 (31.6%) 288 (40.7%) 82 (73.2%)
 Asian 56 (24.9%) 88 (12.4%) 8 (7.1%)
 Hispanic 86 (38.2%) 315 (44.5%) 17 (15.2%)
 African American 5 (2.2%) 10 (1.4%) 4 (3.6%)
 American Indian 2 (0.9%) 2 (0.3%) --
Grade Level
 Third 51 (22.7%) 152 (21.5%) 19 (17.0%)
 Fourth 68 (30.2%) 250 (35.3%) 47 (42.0%)
 Fifth 106 (47.1%) 306 (43.2%) 46 (41.0%)
Additional Eligibilities
 Speech 102 (45.3%) 257 (36.3%) 22 919.6%)
 Other Health Impairment 11 (4.9%) 31 (4.4% 11 (9.8%)
 Emotionally Disturbed 5 (2.2%) 12 (1.7%) 2 (1.8%)
 Autism -- 2 (0.3%) --

Note. (a) IQ [less than or equal to] 84 (n = 225). (b) IQ = 85-115
(n = 708). (c) IQ [greater than or equal to] 116 (n = 112)

Table 2
Ranges and Means for Modifications by Modification Domain

 Low (a) Average (b)

Variable M SD Range M SD Range

Instructional .33 .58 0-2 .31 .56 0-3
Methodological 1.16 1.11 0-5 1.05 1.07 0-7
Delivery 4.72 2.65 0-13 4.41 2.42 0-13
Evaluation 1.40 1.29 0-7 1.30 1.11 0-7

 High (c) ANOVA (d)

Variable M SD Range F (2, 1042) [[eta].sup.2]

Instructional .17 .42 0-2 3.402 .006
Methodological .99 1.02 0-4 1.122 .002
Delivery 3.43 2.06 0-12 10.719 * .020
Evaluation .91 1.09 0-7 7.147 * .014

(a) IQ [less than or equal to] 84 (n = 225). (b) IQ = 85-115 (n = 708).
(c) IQ [greater than or equal to] 116 (n = 112). (d) All groups,
N = 1045.

* p < .01. [[eta].sup.2] = effect size.

Note. Possible ranges for the modification domains were as follows:

Instructional (0-3), Methodological (0-30), Delivery (0-55), and
Evaluation (0-22).
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Author:Crim, Courtney; Hawkins, Jacqueline; Ruban, Lilia; Johnson, Sharon
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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