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Facts from NLTS2: General Education Participation and Academic Performance of Students With Learning Disabilities

NCSER 2006-3001
July 2006

Students' Achievement on Academic Assessments

NLTS2 administered standardized assessments in reading, mathematics, science, and social studies, providing the first nationally representative data on how secondary youth with disabilities are faring academically. Assessments of youth's academic achievement were conducted using six subtests from the research version of the Woodcock-Johnson III (WJ III; Woodcock, McGrew, and Mather 2001).8

Many youth with learning disabilities do not fare nearly as well on academic assessments as they do on course grades. Across academic subtests, between 30 percent and 60 percent of youth with learning disabilities score below 85,9 equivalent to the lowest-performing 15 percent of youth in the general population (figure 5).1010 Although three-quarters or more youth with learning disabilities score below 100 on these subtests, some youth are performing well. From 12 percent to 26 percent score above the norming sample mean across subtests.

Youth with learning disabilities experience the greatest difficulty with passage comprehension. Their mean standard score on this test is 82, compared with mean scores of 90 on the synonyms/ antonyms subtest, 88 on the applied problems and science subtests, 87 on the social studies subtest, and 86 on the math calculation subtest.

8 Youth were eligible for the direct or alternate assessment if they were between 16 and 18 years old, a telephone interview or mail questionnaire had been completed by a parent, and parental consent for the assessment had been provided; 559 youth with learning disabilities were included in the assessments. See Wagner et al. (2006) for descriptions of the direct assessment subtests and the data collection process.
9 The standard score scale used in the WJ III has a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15 in the norming sample.
10 In the general population, the distribution of test scores on each subtest is equally divided above and below the mean (i.e., 50 percent score above and 50 percent below). Two percent of youth in the general population score below 70, 14 percent score between 70 and 84.9, 34 percent score between 85 and 100, and 50 percent score above 100.