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Research & Reports

Learning Disabilities and Special Education

Descriptive Study of Services to LEP Students and LEP Students with Disabilities

Author: Annette M. Zehler, Howard L. Fleischman, Paul J. Hopstock, Todd G. Stephenson, Michelle L. Pendzick, Saloni Sapru. Center for Equity and Excellence in Education at The George Washington University. National Center on Educational Outcomes at University of Minnesota. U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement of Limited English Proficient Students (OELA)

Summary: This report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education surveys schools and districts nationally to identify characteristics of and services provided to ELLs, including services offered to ELLs with disabilities.

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Tags: Books and Other Reading Materials; Instructional Programs; Intervention; Placement; Rights, Students;

Target Population: All

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • What are the demographics of LEP and LEP students with disabilities?
  • What kind of instructional services do LEP and LEP with disabilities receive, and how do they align with statewide standards?
  • What are the outcomes of LEP and LEP with disabilities?

Findings:

  • In 2001–02, LEP comprised 8.4 % of the student population, with the majority in lower elementary grades.
  • Spanish is the most common native language of LEP by far.
  • Although the largest portion of the LEP student population is enrolled within only a few districts, there are many districts across the U.S. serving small numbers of LEP students.
  • Instructional services for LEP vary greatly, especially in the areas of extent of services provided, and extent of use of native language, and for Sp–Ed LEP–services provided outside vs. inside the classroom.
  • There has been a shift in the past 10 years in LEP instructional services toward services provided in English.
  • There has been a dramatic increase (350%) in the number of teachers who work with at least one LEP student from '92–'02.
  • 6/10 teachers who worked with three or more LEP students reported a median of four hours of relevant in–service training.
  • District coordinators reported that the instruction LEP and Sp–Ed LEP students received was less aligned with State standards than that of non–LEP students.
  • Many school districts and schools had considerable difficulty in providing a count of SpEd–MEP students.
  • Fewer LEP students were in special education than the entire student population as a whole. (9.2& vs. 13.5%)
  • Compared to LEP students, SpEd–MEP students are less likely to receive LEP instructional services, and more likely to receive instruction in English.
  • Instructional services for Spanish–language SpEd–MEP students differed from services received by SpEd–MEP students from other language backgrounds.

Policy Recommendations:

  • As mainstream classes become more diverse, in ethnicity, English proficiency, and instruction, teachers and aides face new challenges, which should be answered with additional training.
  • Districts should keep better records on LEP and former LEPs, and consider both when analyzing student outcomes.
  • Schools need to determine as early as possible if students' difficulties stem from second language learning or from a disability, and provide support accordingly.
  • Further efforts are needed to define effective instruction for SpEd–MEP students, and to promote increased collaboration across the LEP and special education programs in providing SpEd–MEP services.

U.S. Department of Education. (2002). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities: Twenty-fourth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Zehler, A. M., Fleischman, H. L., Hopstock, P. J., Pendzick, M. L., & Stephenson, T. G. (2003). Descriptive study of services to LEP students and LEP students with disabilities (No. 4 Special topic report: findings on special education LEP students). Development Associates, Inc.: Arlington, VA.

English Language Learners and Learning Disabilities: Research Agenda and Implications for Practice

Summary: "English Language Learners and Learning Disabilities: Research Agenda and Implications for Practice" defines a research agenda to address issues related to identification and placement of English language learners with learning disabilities. Using information gathered during an October 2003 National Symposium on Learning Disabilities in English Language Learners, the authors recommend future research in the following areas: identification and assessment of learning disabilities among ELLs, definition of what constitutes normal developmental patterns in ELLs, identification of individual and contextual issues that affect ELL performance, the relationship between neurobiology and learning disabilities among ELLs, and development of effective interventions for ELLs with learning disabilities. *Must purchase article, become a member of Wiley Online Library, or access it through institution database.

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Tags: Differentiated Instruction; Struggling Readers;

Target Population: All

Research Questions the Report Poses: What knowledge about learning disabilities among monolingual native-English students and strategies for instruction can be applied to English language learners with learning disabilities?

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
From Journal Learning Disabilities Research & Practice: Volume 20, Issue 1, pages 68-79, February 2005.

McCardle, P., Mele-McCarthy, J. and Leos, K. (2005), English Language Learners and Learning Disabilities: Research Agenda and Implications for Practice. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 20: 68-78.

English Language Learners with Disabilities: Identification and Other State Policies and Issues

Author: National Association of State Directors of Special Education

Summary: Most school districts do not have plans in place for identifying and addressing learning disabilities in ELLs. Project Forum selected and studied seven states with large or growing ELL populations. They interviewed both special education and English language learner staff to find out what policies and practices are happening at the state level and what policies they would recommend to improve the quality of education for ELLs with learning disabilities.

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Tags: Bilingual Instruction; Language Proficiency; Rights, Students;

Target Population: Elementary, Middle, High School

Research Questions the Report Poses: What are the current state policies and practices related to ELLs with disabilities?

Findings:

State-level personnel report a:

  • Lack of qualified personnel trained in ELL or bilingual education to manage state-wide ELL needs;
  • Lack of appropriate assessment instruments in languages other than English;
  • Cultural barriers in communicating with ELL parents; and
  • Need for sustained collaboration between bilingual education and special education personnel.

Policy Recommendations:

The authors offer a number of recommendations that include improved:

  • Local accountability
  • Statewide policies and guidance
  • Teacher training and licensure
  • Coordination between special education and ELL professionals

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
NASDSE 1800 Diagonal Road, Suite 320 Alexandria, VA 22314

Keller-Allen, C. (2006). English Language Learners with Disabilities: Identification and Other State Policies and Issues. Project Forum, National Association of State Directors of Special Education: Alexandria, VA.

English Language Learners with Special Needs: Effective Instructional Strategies

Author: Alba Ortiz

Summary: In English Language Learners with Special Needs: Effective Instructional Strategies, Alba Ortiz provides a framework for ELL instruction that focuses on preventing school failure and providing early intervention for struggling learners. In this context, Ortiz discusses such topics as creating supportive learning environments, fostering school-community collaborations, designing effective instructional programs, and deciding when to refer students for special education evaluation.

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Tags: Curriculum; Differentiated Instruction; Instructional Programs; Intervention; Placement;

Target Population: Elementary, Middle, High School

Findings:

  • English language learners who need special education services are disadvantaged by the shortage of special educators who are trained to address their language- and disability-related needs simultaneously
  • Improving the academic performance of students from non-English backgrounds requires a focus on the prevention of failure and on early intervention for struggling learners

Ortiz, A. (2001). English Language Learners with Special Needs: Effective Instructional Strategies. Austin, TX: University of Texas.

Features of State Response to Intervention Initiatives in Northeast and Islands Region States

Author: Bocala, C., Mello, D., Reedy, K., and Lacireno-Paquet, N. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands.

Summary: Response to intervention (RTI) is an approach to instruction, assessment, and intervention that enables early identification of students who are experiencing academic or behavioral difficulties. This report studies the public documents detailing such efforts in the nine (Northeast and Islands Region jurisdictions: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the Virgin Islands. The report examines only state–level evidence and distinguishes between the enactment of state regulations or guidance and local practice.

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Tags: Intervention;

Target Population: All

Research Questions the Report Poses: What are the features of state response to intervention initiatives as evidenced by publicly available information from state education agencies?

Findings:

  • An RTI framework typically contains 8 core features outlined by the National Re-search Center on Learning Disabilities: high quality classroom instruction, research–based instruction, assessment of classroom performance, universal screening, continuous progress monitoring, research–based interventions, progress monitoring during interventions, and fidelity measures.
  • 7 of the 9 jurisdictions in the region have developed state documents on RTI that address core features of RTI identified in the literature. These 7 jurisdictions—CT, ME, MA, NH, NY, RI, and VT—use or promote RTI as an approach to supporting struggling students in general education or to determine eligibility for special education at the local level.
  • While there was no evidence of RTI policies or procedures in Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands, that is not evidence that these two jurisdictions do not allow RTI.
  • Of the 7 states that support RTI initiatives, all require or recommend a three–tiered model of intervention; 5 require or recommend use of a readiness self–assessment or plan (ME, NH, NY, RI, and VT), and 4 have appropriated funds for RTI pilot or demonstration sites (NH, NY, RI, and VT).

Bocala, C., Mello, D., Reedy, K., and Lacireno-Paquet, N. (2009). Features of state response to intervention initiatives in Northeast and Islands Region states (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2009–No. 083). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs.

Improving Literacy Outcomes for English Language Learners in High School: Considerations for States and Districts in Developing a Coherent Policy Framework

Author: Koelsch, N. National High School Center.

Summary: The development of strategies to promote literacy among adolescent ELLs is a critical component of improving a variety of their educational outcomes. There are significant opportunities for states to support grade-level literacy among English language learners at the high school level and to thereby increase the chances that more students are able to graduate. The following are some of the key issues to consider when improving schooling for English language learners: high school course patterns, over-representation of ELLs in special education, school completion and graduation requirements, English literacy and college completion, and professional development for teachers. Many of these issues cross-cut through organizational structures of state education agencies and require a coordinated approach for supporting ELLs that will enable them to succeed in high school and beyond.

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Target Population: All

Research Questions the Report Poses: How can teachers improve literacy outcomes for English Language Learners in High School?

Findings:

  • English language learners who are able to negotiate entry into high-level courses develop higher levels of literacy than do ELLs of similar proficiency who are tracked in low-level courses.
  • Latino English language learners are over-represented in special education.
  • ELL students have a better chance to achieve at high levels when academic barriers to college preparation and accelerated courses are removed.
  • College preparatory courses can be accompanied by enrollment in academic support classes when necessary.
  • States need to provide leadership to ensure that English language learners in high school are provided accelerated and enriching academics rather than remediation.

Policy Recommendations:
N/A

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
National High School Center. American Institutes for Research, 1000 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, Washington, DC 20007.

Koelsch, N. (2006). National High School Center, American Institutes for Research. Improving Literacy Outcomes for English Language Learners in High School: Considerations for States and Districts in Developing a Coherent Policy Framework.

Improving Literacy Outcomes for English Language Learners in High School: Considerations for States and Districts in Developing a Coherent Policy Framework

Author: National High School Center, Nanette Koelsch

Summary: This overview from the National High School Center examines the roles of states and school districts in supporting English Language Learners. Among the key findings: ELL students who access accelerated and enriching academics, rather than remediation, succeed at higher levels. In addition, Latino ELL students are overrepresented in special education. In order to build the capacity of teachers to appropriately identify which ELL students would benefit from special education services and which would benefit from more inclusive strategies, states must be explicit about what is expected of professional development and teacher preparedness.

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Tags: Comprehension; Instructional Programs; Intervention; Language Proficiency; Latino ELL Students; Placement; Writing;

Target Population: Middle, High School, Post-Secondary

Research Questions the Report Poses: What issues should states consider to improve schooling for English language learners?

Findings:

  • ELLs need high quality instruction focused on advanced literacy skills and not just on language acquisition; and
  • Immersion-only programs lead to increased special education placements
  • Latino ELLs are overrepresented in special education and lower tracked classrooms;

Policy Recommendations:

  • States and districts need to redesign literacy work for ELLs in high schools to change from remediation to academic enrichment; and
  • States and districts need to ensure that ELLs participate in rigorous, college preparation courses and receive support so that they can succeed in these courses

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
n/a

Koelsch, N. (2006). Improving literacy outcomes for English language learners in high school: Considerations for states and districts in developing a coherent policy Framework. National High School Center .

Language and Reading Interventions for English Language Learners and English Language Learners with Disabilities

Author: http://www.centeroninstruction.org/files/Lang%20and%20Rdng%20 Interventions%20for%20ELLs%20and%20ELLs%20with%20Disabilities.pdf

Summary: This publication explores issues and makes recommendations related to meeting the needs of English learners with limited language proficiency or learning disabilities, or both. The authors offer background on current federal policy context in which this discussion of reading instruction and interventions for ELLs occurs; discussion on how English language learners are identified and classified; discussion of issues in identifying English language learners with disabilities and concerns associated with assessing ELLs' academic achievements and their language proficiency accurately; and a review of recent research, intervention recommendations, and professional development considerations.

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Tags: Intervention;

Target Population: Elementary

Findings:

  • While many ELLs may fall behind due to a lack of English proficiency, their placement rates in special education are higher than they should be, and research suggests that many ELLs are inappropriately placed in special education because they have not received appropriate instruction.
  • The identification of ELLs for special education presents confounding factors that may distort the truth about their levels of proficiency in first and second languages as well as their academic skills.
  • Interventions that have most successfully advanced the reading skills of both at-risk ELLs and ELLs with an identified language or reading disability align very closely with interventions proven effective with monolingual English speakers who are struggling to read.
  • Building teachers' capacity through teacher education programs, professional development agencies, and ongoing support to implement instructional practices designed to serve ELLs is as significant a priority as designing effective instructional approaches.

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
Not specified

Rivera, M. O., Moughamian, A. C., Lesaux, N. K., & Francis, D. J. (2008). Language and reading interventions for English language learners and English language learners with disabilities. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

Processes and Challenges in Identifying Learning Disabilities Among English Language Learner Students in Three New York State Districts

Author: M. T. Sanchez; U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences

Summary: The study examines practices for identifying learning disabilities among students who are ELLs and the challenges that arise among three New York State districts.

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Tags: Placement; Struggling Readers;

Target Population: All

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • According to district and school personnel in three midsize New York State districts, what processes are used to identify students who are English language learners and also have learning disabilities?
  • What challenges do those district administrators and school personnel describe about the process of identifying learning disabilities among students who are ELLs?

Findings:
Eight challenges in identifying learning disabilities among ELL students:

  • Difficulties with policy guidelines.
  • Different stakeholder views about timing for referral of students who are English language learners.
  • Insufficient knowledge among personnel involved in identification.
  • Difficulties providing consistent, adequate services to students who are English language learners.
  • Lack of collaborative structures in prereferral.
  • Lack of access to assessments that differentiate between second language development and learning disabilities.
  • Lack of consistent monitoring for struggling students who are English language learners.
  • Difficulty obtaining students' previous school records.

Policy Recommendations:
Analysis of the differences in the prereferral and referral processes and of the challenges identified in the three districts suggests five interrelated elements that appear to be important for avoiding misidentification of learning disabilities among students who are English language learners:

  • Adequate professional knowledge. Having access to professional expertise about cultural differences, language development, learning disabilities, and their intersection among classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators.
  • Effective instructional practices. Providing effective instruction to students who are English language learners before and during prereferral.
  • Effective and valid assessment and interventions. Providing valid assessments and effective intervention strategies.
  • Interdepartmental collaborative structures. Establishing structures for collaboration between the English language learner and special education departments, as well as opportunities for teachers to collaborate and problem solve in schools.
  • Clear policy guidelines. Providing streamlined and clear policy guidelines on procedures to follow and criteria to use in identifying learning disabilities among students who are English language learners.

Sanchez, M.T. (2010, February). Processes and Challenges in Identifying Learning Disabilities Among English Language Learner Students in three New York State Districts. U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/projects/project.asp?projectID=116

The condition of college & career readiness: 2010

Author: ACT Inc.

Summary: The report provides information on the college readiness of graduating seniors in 2010 who took the ACT in high school. Data included ACT test scores and the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. The ACT defines College Readiness Benchmark as the minimum score required on the subject-area test to indicate likeliness of success in the corresponding first-year credit-bearing college course (50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or approximately a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher). Although more Hispanic students are taking the test, performance in both areas for Hispanic students still lags significantly behind white and Asian students.

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Tags: Curriculum; Intervention; Latino ELL Students;

Target Population: High School, Post-Secondary

Research Questions the Report Poses: not specified

Findings:

  • 158,000 Hispanic students took the ACT in 2010, an increase of 84% since 2006. Hispanic students represent 10% of the ACT-tested graduates.
  • 68% of ACT-tested Hispanic high school graduates took at least a minimum core high school curriculum to prepare them for college, compared to 74% of whites and 81% of Asian American/Pacific Islander ACT-tested high school graduates.
  • Average ACT Composite scores for Hispanic graduates' remained the same while American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander, and White graduates increased between 2006 and 2010.
  • None of the College Readiness Benchmarks were met by at least 50% of Hispanic graduates. While 39% of Asian American graduates and 30% of White graduates met benchmarks in all four subjects, only 11% of Hispanic graduates attained such.
  • 77% of Hispanic graduates aspired to attain either a graduate/professional or a bachelor's degree, compared to 85% of white graduates.

Policy Recommendations:

  • States should adopt fewer-but essential-learning standards as their new high school graduation standards, and those they adopt must lead to college and career readiness.
  • States should adopt a rigorous core curriculum for all high school students whether they are bound for college or work.
  • States must define "how good is good enough" for college and career readiness.
  • Having appropriate and aligned standards, coupled with a core curriculum, will adequately prepare high school students only if the courses are truly challenging.
  • States should begin monitoring student academic performance early to make sure younger students are on target to be ready for college and career.
  • States need to establish longitudinal P-16 data systems.

ACT Inc. (2010). The condition of college & career readiness: 2010. ACT Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/cccr10/pdf/ConditionofCollegeandCareerReadiness2010.pdf