Education Report Roundup

Identifying ELLs With Disabilities

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 23, 2010 1 min read
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School district officials think teachers tend to be too quick to refer English-language learners to special education, while teachers think administrators tend to wait too long to make a referral, according to a federal study of special education referral practices in three suburban districts in New York state.

The study names five components of identification that are important in ensuring that ELLs aren’t mistakenly identified as having disabilities: adequate professional knowledge, effective instruction, valid assessments and interventions, collaboration among departments in a district, and clear policies.

The study also spells out eight challenges that the three New York districts faced in making determinations on whether students had a language problem or disability, including differing views among educators about the timing for referral of ELLs.

Through case studies of the three districts, the study also presents questions that other districts can use to audit their own practices. The study was prepared for the U.S. Department of Educations Institute of Education Sciences by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands.

A version of this article appeared in the February 24, 2010 edition of Education Week as Identifying ELLs With Disabilities


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