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A bilingual site for families and educators of English language learners
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Special Education and English Language Learners

One of the most difficult challenges for teachers of English language learners to address is the question of special education services for ELLs. When is referral appropriate? How should the student be evaluated?

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These resources offer a brief introduction to these questions. We strongly recommend further reading, particularly of the books listed, which provide detailed frameworks, guides, and tools that can help support ELL success. These resources are best used after appropriate training and discussion that involves ELL educators, special education educators, administrators, and other key staff members.

Getting Started

Introductory Articles

The following articles are excerpts from Special Education Considerations for English Language Learners: Delivering a Continuum of Services (Caslon, 2007):

Colorín Colorado Webcast

ELLs with Learning Disabilities

English Language Learners with LD

This Colorín Colorado webcast featuring biligual speech-language pathologist Dr. Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan discusses effective assessment and instruction strategies for English language learners with learning disabilities, as well as ways to help encourage the active involvement of parents of ELLs with LD in their children's schools.

Recommended Resources

Guidebooks & Manuals


Special Education Considerations for English Language Learners: Delivering a Continuum of Services

By Else Hamayan, Barbara Marler, Cristina Sanchez-Lopez, Jack Damico

Special Education Considerations for English Language Learners: Delivering a Continuum of Services

Rather than asking the question "disability or language difficulty?", this outstanding guidebook presents a framework for strengthening ELL academic support; improving the methods by which educators gather information; and building a collaborative team to manage this process.

Having laid the groundwork, the authors then offer guidelines to help educators identify specific difficulties and culturally/linguistically-appropriate interventions that are appropriate for ELLs, as well as for making the decision on whether to refer ELLs to special education services. Readers will appreciate the helpful hands-on examples, tools, and discussion questions throughout the text.

Dual Language Development & Disorders: A Handbook on Bilingualism and Second Language Learning (2nd Edition)

By Johanne Paradis, Fred Genesee, and Martha B. Crago

Dual Language Development & Disorders: A Handbook on Bilingualism and Second Language Learning

This valuable handbook provides ELL educators, speech-language pathologists, special educators, and teacher trainers with an in-depth, research-based introduction to the language development and disorders of dual-language learners (both students who are fully bilingual and those who are learning a second language).

Topics include the impact of culture on language; language development for internationally adopted students; assessment strategies for identifying language and reading disorders; and intervention approaches for dual-language learners with language/reading impairments. Profiles of students from a wide range of backgrounds offer educators a guide for making decisions that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for their students.

Bilingual Resources for Parents

  • How to Know When Your Child Needs Extra Help (also in Spanish): This resource section includes information on reading difficulties, learning disabilities, special education, and IEPs, as well as recommended resources for parents.
  • National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (also available in Spanish): NICHCY serves the nation as a central source of information on disabilities in infants, toddlers, children, and youth; and the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Experts at NICHCY are available to answer questions in English or Spanish.

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