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  • Evaluating English Language Learners with Suspected Disabilities: A Guide

    to Best Practices Research

    ME 533

  • The ultimate goal is to help you address the BIG referral question:

    Is the academic underachievement attributable to a learning disability or to second language

    acquisition difficulty? Or to poor instruction/educational programming?

    The answer begins with:

    The Legal Framework The Second Language Acquisition Process The Assessment Process

  • Why??IDEIA 2004 Findings indicate that:

    In 2000, 1 of every 3 persons in the United States was a member of a minority group or was limited English proficient.

    Minority children comprise an increasing percentage of public school students. Local education agencies (LEAs) reported that 77% of all LEP students have Spanish as their native language (Zehler et al., 2003a).

    Studies have documented apparent discrepancies in the levels of referral and placement of limited English proficient children in special education.

  • Research Study: Wilkinson, Ortiz, Robertson-Courtney, Kushner

    Participants: 70 out of 90 ELLs with reading-related LD in BSE classrooms in urban, central Texas school district

    Identified 21 currently receiving services under the LD code

    Student data reviewed by a panel of three experts; 1/PHD in School Psychology and 2/PHD in Special Education (avg. 19 yrs in BSE)

    Panel did not agree with 9/21 cases; 6 were questionable. The panel questioned: the language dominance/proficiency assessment; pre-referral inadequacies; assessment language problems.

  • Terminology Limited English Proficient (LEP)

    English language learner (ELL)

    L1 native language; usually Spanish

    L2 usually English

    Code-switching/mixing: controlled blending of languages

  • Legal FrameworkFederal Definition of Specific Learning Disability:

    (i) General. The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

    (ii) Disorders not included. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

  • Legal Framework(A) In General. when determining whether a child has a specific

    learning disability as defined in section 602 (Definitions), a local educational agency shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation or mathematical reasoning.

    (B) Additional Authority.In determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, a local educational agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research- based intervention as a part of the evaluation procedures described in paragraphs (2) and (3) (Notice and Conduct).

  • Legal Framework The group may determine that the child has a

    learning disability if: the child does not make sufficient progress to meet age

    or State-approved grade-level standards despite the use of a process based on their response to scientific, research-based intervention; or

    the child exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement or both relative to age, on State-approved grade-level standards or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability.

    Oral Expression, Listening comprehension, Written Expression, Basic Reading Skill, Reading Fluency Skills (new category), Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Calculation, Mathematics Problem Solving (name change from Mathematics Reasoning)

  • Legal FrameworkA child shall not be determined to be a child with a disability if the determinant factor for such determination is:

    1. Lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including in the essential components of reading instruction;

    2. Lack of instruction in math; or

    3. Limited English proficiency.

  • Legal FrameworkMust use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent, that may assist in determining

    (i) whether the child is a child with a disability; and (ii) the content of the child's individualizededucation program, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum

  • Legal Framework(A) Are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis;

    (B) Are provided and administered in the language and form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is not feasible to so provide or administer.

    (C) Are used for purposes for which the assessments or measures are valid and reliable;

    (D) Are administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and

    (E) Are administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of such assessments.

  • The Second Language Acquisition Process

    Language Dominance refers to language development.

    Language Proficiency - provides a description of the individuals language development involving listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. Language proficiency levels govern the assessment process (Rhodes, Ochoa, & Ortiz, 2005)

  • The Second Language Acquisition Process

    Common Underlying Proficiency: learned skills or concepts transfer from one language to another. ex. Literacy skills

    Separate Underlying Proficiency: Language proficiency in one language is separate from another. Learned skills do not transfer.

    Threshold Hypothesis: Successful second language learning is dependent upon the individual reaching the threshold level of native language ability.

    L2 development is dependent upon L1 development.

  • BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills)

    Language Proficiency BICS/CALPS


    CALPS (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)









  • Stages of Second Language Acquisition

    Preproduction: receptive skills better developed

    Early Speech Production: yes/no questions Speech Emergence: wh questions Intermediate Fluency: appear fluent

  • Characteristics of Second Language Acquisition

    Interference Silent Period Fossilization Code-Switching/Mixing Language Loss

  • Collaborative Assessment

    Are school/district-wide supports available for ELLs? Type/duration of language programs?

    Are community supports available? Are parents involved? Are systematic, consistent, data-driven instructional

    interventions in place?

    Research indicates that infidelity surrounds the pre-referral process (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez, 1997).

    Referral committees push testing.

  • Collaborative Assessment

    Focus on the classroom, not the testing process. What are the teachers credentials, skills, perspectives? Is

    culturally-responsive, standards-based instruction/assessment taking place?

    Are the students on-task and engaged? Is there meaningful opportunities to practice language

    skills across multiple settings?

  • Collaborative Assessment

    Formal/informal evaluation of L1/L2 language skills:

    Receptive vocabulary skills

    Expressive vocabulary skills

    Oral communicative proficiency

    Bilingual verbal ability

    informal language assessments; story-telling/re-telling, language samples, observations, etc.

  • Collaborative Assessment

    Evaluate acculturation of the student Compare to siblings/peers Family dynamics Prior educational experiences Ties to country of origin, if applicable View of host country/society Aspirations Motivations Age

  • Collaborative Assessment

    Selection of assessment language Bilingual assessment vs. assessment of bilingual

    individuals (MAMBI Rhodes, Ochoa, Ortiz, 2005)

    Dual language cognitive/academic achievement assessment, if available. Nonverbal, if needed.

  • Collaborative Assessment

    Cautiously interpret results Compare results to work samples, CBM Cultural/linguistic loading of assessment


    Norm samples Translations




    AL L







    MPicture Recognition (Gv-MV)PLANNING (Gv-SS)PAIR CANCELLATION (Gs-R9)






  • Collabo