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English-Language Learners

No ‘Right Test’ For Identifying ELLs With Disabilities

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 21, 2010 1 min read

Identifying English-language learners who have disabilities is not just about giving students the right test, said a keynote speaker recently at a conference in New York state for educators interested in improving how their school districts determine if ELLs need special education services. “We don’t have the right test,” she said, according to EdEvidence, a newsletter published by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands.

The speaker was Janette Klinger, a professor of education specializing in bilingual special education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She stressed the need to make sure that first of all, ELLs are receiving appropriate instruction. And before any ELLs are referred to special education, educators should analyze their rate of progress and compare it with students who are “true peers.”

The newsletter doesn’t say what Klinger considers to be “true peers.” From what I’ve learned reporting on the subject, I infer that a true peer might be another ELL student in the same grade who has similar characteristics, such as a similar level of schooling before coming to the United States. Researchers have also told me that it can be helpful for educators to talk with parents about whether an ELL who is struggling in school has developed native-language skills at the same rate as his or her siblings.

The conference was a follow-up to a report published by the laboratory at the request of the New York state department of education. That report looked at how three school districts identify English-language learners with disabilities.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.