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Specific Learning Disabilities

Definition in State Rule: Specific Learning Disability

Specific learning disability pursuant to s. 115.76 (5) (a) 10., Stats., means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or perform mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, motor disabilities, cognitive disabilities, emotional disturbance, cultural factors, environmental, or economic disadvantage. PI 11.36 (6)(a), Wis. Admin. Code

Incidence and Disproportionality


For the 2022-2023 school year, 24,850 students (3%) of total public school enrollment (822,804 students) were identified as having a specific learning disability. The 24,850 students with a specific learning disability made up 20.3% of all students with IEPs (122,187). In Wisconsin, IEP teams are not required to identify secondary or tertiary impairment areas and are only required to submit a “reporting” disability and may also report an “other” disability category. Thus the number of students identified as having an “other” disability category of specific learning disability is not reflected in this data. To view additional data including district level information, go to the WI DPI public WISEdash portal.


In Wisconsin, like many other states, we see district data demonstrating race-based patterns of identification for a specific learning disability. Specifically, districts have identified American Indian, black, and hispanic students more than their peers with having a specific learning disability. As an equity issue, we strongly encourage all districts to disaggregate their special education data to ensure evaluation practices and procedures are culturally responsive and address bias when conducting and analyzing assessments used to make eligibility decisions. Go to the DPI Culturally Responsive Problem Solving web page for more information.

Specific Learning Disability Criteria

Specific Learning Disability Criteria

§300.304 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines two purpose of special education evaluations (i) Whether the child is a child with a disability; and (ii) The content of the child’s IEP, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum (or for a preschool child, to participate in appropriate activities). The disability category criteria IEP forms only assist IEP teams with (i) and are not sufficient in completing an evaluation and developing a student’s IEP. To ensure compliance with implementing a full, individual, and comprehensive evaluation, go to the Wisconsin DPI Comprehensive Special Education Evaluation web page.

IEP Forms and Guidance

Additional Guidance: Dyslexia and Specific Learning Disability

The Dyslexia and Specific Learning Disability guidance is intended to clarify the relationship between dyslexia and specific learning disabilities as defined by state and federal special education law. Recent federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) guidance specific to this topic is also integrated within this document.

Other Special Education Resources

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