Ways to Better Serve Often-Misunderstood English-Learners With Disabilities
Drawing distinctions between English-learners who struggle with the language and those who have learning disabilities is difficult.
Educating English-learners or students with disabilities often requires special training and a firm grasp of sometimes complex federal policy. The prospect of identifying and supporting dual-identified students—who are eligible for extra support for both English-language acquisition and learning with a disability—often leaves teachers feeling underprepared and overwhelmed.
It's a refrain that researchers from New America, a Washington-based think tank, heard repeatedly while interviewing teachers across the country as part of their work centered on improving educational access, quality, and outcomes for English-learners.
A new brief from New America, English Learners with Disabilities: Shining a Light on Dual-Identified Students, offers a series of recommendations to help educators "more accurately identify ELs with disabilities and provide appropriate instructional services" by addressing gaps in educator knowledge, and inherent weaknesses in student referral strategies and assessment tools.
"Delivering appropriate services and supports for students with disabilities from monolingual, English-speaking families, is by itself, a complex challenge for schools," the report authors write. "The work of appropriately identifying and serving students becomes all the more complicated when a student is learning across multiple languages."
New America's recommendations call on schools to:
- provide clear policy guidance on how to identify English-leaners in need of special education services; (Most states don't.)
- train educators to identify and support the 'dual-identified' students; (It's a blind spot in teacher professional development.)
- improve evaluation and assessment practices; (Young English-learners are less likely to receive special support services than their white peers.) and
- support a child's home language. (It can help children feel more welcome.)
The paper also addresses trends in over- and under-identification of English-learners with disabilities, noting that in the years before 3rd grade, English-learners are generally under-identified but tend to be over-identified in middle and high school.
The New America brief is the latest in a series of research and policy papers that address the education of English-learners with disabilities.
A report from the National Center on Educational Outcomes takes a national look at which states have manuals on educating English-learner students with disabilities and finds that many don't have one. California, the state with the nation's largest English-learner population, recently released its practitioners guide.
The Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands produced a two-page guide that offers guidance to determine whether a student's in-school struggles stem from their limited English-language proficiency or a learning disability.
Image Credit: New America