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USD School of Education Professors Receive Grant to Study Learning Disability Identification

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Daniel Hajovsky, Ph.D., assistant professor and licensed psychologist, and Ethan Villeneuve, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor, have been awarded a grant that will enable them to study how cognitive abilities and academic component skills can be used to better inform learning disability assessment and identification.

The grant, funded by the Woodcock Institute of Neurocognitive Research and Applied Practice, supports the University School of Education researchers’ efforts to help school psychologists accurately assess and identify learning disabilities such as dyslexia. School psychologists would be better equipped to provide referral services, thus allowing more students with learning disabilities to receive support from special education services.

“What is most exciting about this work is the potential to impact how we use cognitive ability assessments within a learning disability identification framework,” Hajovsky said. “This study is a new look at an old problem that is long overdue.”

Working effectively at the margins of skill level (i.e., lower skill level) includes early identification of students who will likely need more intensive academic skill instruction.

“I am excited for this research as it uses a novel methodology, quantile multiple regression, to study cognitive abilities and academic skills,” Villeneuve said. “Using quantile multiple regression in this line of research may lead to greater accuracy in specific learning disability identification.”

Another potential outcome from this research is that it can help inform measures of giftedness. For example, this study may reveal which variables explain individual differences for more academically-capable students. One notable individual difference is writing ability, a relatively understudied area of achievement.

Hajovsky and Villeneuve hope to present their findings at the American Education Research Association in 2019.


USD's School of Education is transformative in preparing students both inside and outside the classroom. Its research- and practitioner-based programs train future educators, counselors, leaders, fitness and sport-related professionals for successful careers. The school focuses on a comprehensive learning experience, lifelong learning and developing professionals grounded in best practice. The school’s divisions include counseling and psychology, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, kinesiology and sport management, and teacher residency and education.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News