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Florida Learning Disabilities Research Center


Academic Achievement Among Juvenile Detainees

A new screener has been developed for use in juvenile detention centers, with the goal of better administering academic placement exams to these students! Standardized tests are often difficult to give out in these locations, for they require well-trained moderators and long testing periods. However, this new screener hopes to amend these concerns by being delivered electronically, thus allowing for quicker exam times, less time spent training instructors, and group administration. The questions asked are determined based on answers to preceding ones, and the tested skills fall into one of three groups: recognizing and understanding words, reading comprehension, and math abilities (both word problems and algebraic equations, each going up to an eighth grade level). Having a test that is both easy to administer and accurate in its scoring is essential in this population, for past research indicates heightened rates of learning disabilities among criminal populations of all age groups and that timely academic advising is essential to social rehabilitation and ease of future learning.

To test the accuracy of this new screener, which was administered to all juveniles detained in Connecticut, some of the students also took the WRAT – an established exam with slightly different question categories – and their scores were compared. The results were promising! Students who scored higher in one area of the WRAT also tended to score higher on similar portions of the new screener, and students who struggled in one area of the exams (such as reading comprehension) also tended to struggle with other components (such as solving word problems). A score of 75 or lower on the WRAT was used as evidence of a learning disability, and based on this and on the scores of those students who took both exams, a comparable threshold was determined for the new screener. The results found revealed that most, but not all, of the juveniles were far below the academic level where they should have been, results which past studies have supported. Although further work on the new screener is still necessary, it nevertheless is off to a great start and is indicative of the necessity for more research regarding why criminal tendencies correlate with learning disorders.

Grigorenko EL, Macomber D, Hart L, Naples A, Chapman J, Geib CF, Chart H, Tan M, Wolhendler B, Wagner R. “Academic Achievement Among Juvenile Detainees.” J Learn Disabil. 2015 Jul-Aug;48(4):359-68. doi: 10.1177/0022219413500991. Epub 2013 Sep 24. PubMed PMID: 24064502.