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Assessing ELL Students for Special Education

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  • 0:04 Special Education…
  • 1:15 Best Practices for Issues
  • 1:53 Intervention and Assessment
  • 3:05 Silent Phase and…
  • 4:28 Team
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Jocelyn Cherry

Jocelyn has taught Special Education for over two decades and has three post secondary degrees all in the field of Education.

Teachers of English Language Learners face unique challenges in identifying students who require special education services. This lesson describes a process for fair and accurate identification of English Language Learners with special needs.

Special Education Issues with ELL

When an English Language Learner (ELL) appears to be struggling, how do you determine if the problem is language acquisition or special needs? Are you confident that your decision-making process doesn't confuse linguistic and cultural diversity with cognitive skills and intellectual abilities? In the US, there has been a lack of consistency in how ELLs have been identified for special education services. Research shows that there is an over-identification of ELLs in school districts with fewer than 100 ELLs; that is, ELLs may be referred for special services who don't actually need them. On the other hand, districts with very large ELL populations have the tendency to under-identify ELLs for special education, or fail to refer ELLs who do require special services.

Some educators assume that identifying an ELL for special education services is a fast, easy way for the student to acquire and master the English language. Not only is this detrimental to the student who does not receive the rigorous instruction needed, but it's a violation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Best Practices for Issues

To correctly identify ELLs for special services requires an extensive assessment approach. You must use data from various sources, avoiding bias at all costs. Ask yourself the following questions before deciding if it's time to move forward with formal evaluations:

  1. Did the student receive appropriate interventions in the general education environment?
  2. Was the student assessed in their primary language?
  3. Are you familiar with the 'silent phase' of language acquisition?
  4. Have you considered cultural differences?
  5. Is your team in place?

Let's go through each of these evaluations in more detail, one at a time.

Interventions and Assessment

1. Did the student receive appropriate interventions in the general education environment?

Determine where the student is in the multi-tiered system of support. Ensure the student has received appropriate research-based interventions with rigor and fidelity. Consider the data that you have gathered:

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