The major criterion for classification systems is that students said to evidence any specific handicapping condition must demonstrate at least one universal and one specific characteristic. We conducted two investigations, using the category “learning disabilities” as an example, to examine the extent to which this criterion is met. In the first study, we demonstrated that 85% of 248 3rd-, 5th-, and 12th- grade students identified as normal could be classified as learning disabled. In a second investigation, we contrasted low-achieving students enrolled in regular fourth-grade classes with students labeled as learning disabled (LD). Analysis of these data indicated that 88% of the low-achieving sample could be identified as LD and that 4% of the LD sample did not meet any of the criteria for classification as LD. We found no specific characteristics that differentiated the groups. Implications for classification practices in general and for serving students who are failing in school are discussed.
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