When ELLs Struggle: Recognizing the Signs

It's important for educators who screen English language learners (ELLs) for learning difficulties to consider that some behaviors that are considered signs of a learning disability also resemble linguistic behaviors of students learning a second language (L2). In addition, the behaviors may reflect cultural differences or values of students coming to U.S. schools from other countries and educational systems.

This table highlights examples of similarities between possible linguistic, cultural, and learning disability (LD) explanations for behaviors demonstrated by ELLs. The list is not comprehensive, nor should it be used as a diagnostic tool, particularly since not all students with LD exhibit the same learning difficulties. Rather, it is a starting point for conversations regarding students having difficulty. We urge you to explore other potential explanations for learning difficulties based on what you know about your own students.

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