The “Severe Discrepancy Model”

Jun 19, 2024 | Blog

In Michael P. v. Hawaii Department of Education, a case decided September 8, 2011, the 9th Circuit considered the relevance of a concept known as the “severe discrepancy model.” This concept relates to classifiying a student as having a “learning disability.” Prior to the reauthorization of the IDEA in 2004, school districts would ask whether testing results demonstrated a severe discrepancy between intelligence and achievement. If such a discrepancy existed, the child would be classified as learning disabled. But if a child’s scores reflected low intelligence, school districts would not classify that child as learning disabled and many students with low IQ’s would be under-identified. In 2004, Congress mandated that the severe discrepancy could not be used as the sole criterion for determining if someone had a learning disability.

Hawaii was slow to revise its state laws to match the changes in federal law. In this case, the Hawaii DOE relied solely on the severe discrepancy model and the Hawaii district court did not fault them for it. The 9th circuit, however, reversed the decision and remanded back to the district court. Upon remand, the district court will have to apply the appropriate standard, which encourages school district to consider a student’s ability to meet grade-level and age-level expectations.