Frequently Asked Questions


Question: Is the intent of a PSW assessment to use a processing weakness to predict an academic weakness?

Answer: No. A psychoeducational assessment to determine SLD eligibility is likely to be initiated if an academic weakness is already suspected. A comprehensive PSW assessment will consider all four of the following criteria when assessing for SLD:

  1. The student exhibits a pattern of cognitive or processing strengths, indicated by a pattern of abilities in the average or above average ranges
  2. The student exhibits both significant cognitive/ processing and academic weakness(es)
  3. A research-based link exists between the cognitive/ processing and academic weakness(es)
  4. The student requires special education to access the core curriculum


All four criteria must be met for a student to be eligible for special education under the category of SLD using the PSW model in the Ventura County SELPA. All final decisions regarding eligibility should be made by the IEP team.  Some critics have implied that practitioners should use caution when adopting a PSW approach, questioning the linkage between cognitive and academic weaknesses. For a response, please click here.


Question: Have there been any legal decisions regarding PSW?

Answer: The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) prohibited states from requiring Local Education Agencies (LEA) to use the ability-achievement discrepancy model and authorized the use of alternative approaches to the identification of students with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD). The use of the Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses (PSW) Model for SLD identification is indicated in the revised CA Education Code. A Local Education Agency (LEA) is able to determine which of the three options (discrepancy, RtI, or PSW) they will utilize for SLD identification. As a result, many LEAs within California and beyond are deciding to adopt the PSW model. Since implementation of this model is relatively recent, there have not been many fair hearing cases. A California Office of Administrative Hearings decision, Student vs. Temecula Valley USD, was reached in 2018. The decision did not discredit the use of the PSW model for determination of SLD. Practitioners can glean key learnings from this case to ensure that they are completing comprehensive and legally defensible psychoeducational assessments. Please click here for more detailed information.