Learning Disabilities in Corrections Education


I would like to begin a discussion about learning disabilities in the corrections environment.  The information indicates,

More than two-thirds of the 750,000 incarcerated individuals who reported having a disability reported a cognitive disability, the largest of the six disability groups. This represents 20 percent of state and federal prisoners and 31 percent of jail inmates.

What are some of the learning disabilities that we see in the classroom?  Check out the information on different types of Learning Disabilities and share your strategies for providing inclusive classroom instruction to help our students. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  




One of my biggest challenges in this area is identification of those inmates with known learning disabilities. Our system does not show that they have been previously labelled and as a regular education teacher, I do not have access to find out if the Department of Education ever had them labelled. Because of this, I have several on my enrollment that are clearly learning disabled, which, as a teacher for several years, I am able to identify within just a few conversations with them. However, without the labels (that I hated as a public school teacher, by the way), I am also not able to provide them with the necessary accommodations for testing or education. If identification was easier within the system, these students would be better served by our education system.


Thanks for your insight. Certainly, the difficulty in accessing specific assessment accomodations when a learning disability is not formally diagnosed, or there is no record of the formal diagnosis, is very difficult. I'd like to hear from others about how they seek accommodations for learners in corrections.  

I would also like to include a discussion on how instruction can be developed to benefit all learners. An approach I've adpoted is Universal Design for Learning. This framework focuses on the why, the what, and the how of learning. When instruction is built on this framework, it creates the environment for all learners to succeed. 

So, is this framework realistic for your classrooms? If so, how are you implementing it? If not, what are the barriers to implementing UDL? 

I'm looking forward to hearing eveyrone's thoughts. 


I understand that our situations are very different because our program serves the ex-offenders after they are out of incarceration of any kind, if they ever were inside any facility.  However, we definitely find about 35% of our students report having been in some sort of special education programming while in K-12. 

I'm blessed to have a teacher on my full-time staff who has a master's degree in special education and he taught special ed classes in local schools before making the move to adult education.  After working with a student on activities, he can generally get an idea of what are the most likely diagnoses that were probably in place as a child.  Of course, this is not official.  But we can then use our UDL mindset and create varied print materials using specialty fonts and colored paper for people with severe dyslexia.  We also can use multi-level problems that students can choose among so they find one that fits their personal need.  

The ones with auditory processing deficits that appear due to reading difficulty are the most difficult to help.  There is a software that is designed by neuroscientists that can train the brain to capture nuances in sound, spelling and syntax that otherwise lead to loss of comprehension.  It is called Fast ForWord and it is created by Scientific Learning (Fix Language and Reading Problems Fast (scilearn.com))  There is a long history of research demonstrating is effectiveness.  There are products for K-5 and 6 - 12.  The 6-12 products are reasonable for use with adults.  If you had the money to buy licenses for students, you could see impressive gains within a year or less.  I wish I had the budget for it! It is pricey.

Accommodations on TABE are easy to use without a need for large amounts of documentation.  We have successfully submitted to GED.com for accommodations based on the differences seen with and without accommodations on the TABE for the same students.  If students' families have any old documents stashed away in a box or folder somewhere, we've used them to submit to GED.com also.  Those are rare finds, of course.

This issue is a problem!  If only someone could design an online assessment that could give us enough of an idea of disabilities without a major expense, that would be wonderful!



While there are wonderful strategies shared in the thread, I'd like to pose two questions to our community to continue this discussion. 

1. What classroom instructional strategies have you found effective that address the multiple and vairous needs for our learners? 

2. What strategies do you use to access accommodations for testing? 

I'm looking forward to the continued dialogue. 


Our Special Ed certified teacher has a great way of introducing reading back into the world of people who only read signs, labels and magazine covers.  He uses available "flash fiction", very short, very carefully constructed writings of 55 - 100 words  to begin to discuss how the words build meaning and lead the reader to think in a directed way.  He has written several of his own that I think are excellent.  Then he moves to slightly longer excerpts from some of our favorite authors such as Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas and Kathleen Glasgow.  By using these short excerpts and extending their length over several weeks, he builds their reading stamina and gets them hooked into the stories.  Then they can work through an entire work of fiction, especially one in verse such as "Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds.  It is a compelling piece of writing that the reader will typically power through. It has an ambiguous ending that leads into deep, rich conversation that requires the readers to gather evidence from the text to explain their view of the ambiguity.  More often than not, it leads to the student seeking out more accessible fiction, and we keep providing it.

So there is one teaching strategy.

I must retract a statement I made.  I had conflated two students into one and mistakenly said that GED accepted the change in TABE scores.  That did not happen after all.  I apologize for my error.  GED in fact, even rejected a several (maybe five?) year old medical diagnosis due to its age!  I guess the diagnosis must be more recent than that.  (my sarcastic response:  Yeah, because learning disabilities resolve themselves over time!  NOT!)

Another strategy that I have used is teaching testwiseness.  Back in the mid-1980s I was a participating seventh grade teacher in a major public school district research project on testwiseness.  https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED201673.pdf  As part of the training of the teachers before we taught the experimental groups, we were introduced to several studies that demonstrated that testwiseness can be taught. When it was all over, we could see it in the results of our individual students (apart from what the researchers did with the scores).  So I have always taught testwiseness to my students.  I encourage anyone wanting to get someone to pass a high-stakes test to teach testwiseness along with the rest of the critical content.

Our state has several teachers who have been trained to give the WAIS and WJ tests. We then send the results to the treatment department to be evaluated. Once they write a report, we send to GED for accommodations. Our biggest problem is timeliness in getting the evaluations returned from the treatment department (sometimes taking up to six months!).

So I was interested to hear the accommodations suggestion regarding TABE testing given above--interested that GED will accept that.

We have very small class sizes, so we can often pretty easily make accommodations within the classroom for our students. We have several Sped teachers in the facility, and they are willing to help us figure something out if it's not working for a student.