Meeting the Needs of English Learners with Disabilities Written for



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Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Is it advisable to group ELs with non-ELs for RtI intervention?

Response: It is best practice for English learners to be grouped according to their level

of English proficiency for Structured English Immersion (EL services). For other types of

targeted intervention such as in reading, writing, or math, EL students may benefit from

being grouped with peers with similar learning needs.


Question: What is the recommended or required amount of time an EL

must be in RtI before making a referral for special education?



Response: It is best practice for English learners to receive high quality, research

based interventions over a period of time long enough to determine the following:



  1. Is the student struggling academically due to a disability or language difference?

  2. Can the student’s academic needs be met through RtI versus special education?


Section IV
Assessment and Identification of English Learners for Special Education

Learning Disability versus Language Difference
Some students who are English learners (ELs) are misidentified as having learning disabilities because of inadequate assessment tools and practices (Klingner & Artiles 2006; Garcia & Ortiz 2004; Klingner et al., 2008; Klingner et al., 2005; Rueda & Windmueller, 2006). Assessment tools for evaluating learning disabilities among students who are ELs are still in development (Baca et al., 2008,; Skiba, Knesting, & Bush, 2002). One of the challenges is capturing the broad spectrum of bilingualism in assessment. This is difficult to capture with a set of assessment tools (P. Olvera, Ph. D., personal communication, May 21, 2010). Educators face an ongoing challenge in distinguishing a learning disability from the challenges of learning a second language (Klingner & Artiles 2006; Rueda & Windmueller, 2006). When a student who is an EL fails to learn English at the expected pace, falls behind academically, or exhibits inappropriate behavior, educators must decide whether this is caused by a learning disability or by difficulty in developing second language skills (Gopaul-McNicol & Thomas-Presswood, 1998; Orozco et al., 2008). Researchers have identified issues related to the identification of disabilities among students who are English learners that lead to a disproportionate number of these students being assigned to special education services. Some students who are ELs are misdiagnosed as having a disability, including a learning disability, while others are not properly identified as having a disability and thus do not receive the special education services to which they are entitled (Chamberlain, 2005; Warger & Burnette, 2000). The literature identifies four challenges that contribute to disproportionate patterns in the identification of learning disabilities among students who are ELs: professionals’ knowledge of second language development and disabilities, instructional practices, intervention strategies, and assessment tools (Sanchez et el., 2010). ELs may also manifest ADHD like symptoms of inattention and distractibility, due to language differences unrelated to a disability. This sometimes results in an inappropriate designation as SLD or OHI (E. Gomez-Cerrillo, personal communication, May 1, 2010). The process of acquiring a second language varies from child to child, and difficulties with language acquisition often appear similar to learning disabilities (Case & Taylor, 2005). Teachers observing language acquisition in a student who is an EL can confuse the symptoms of learning disabilities with the patterns of pronunciation development (Lue, 2001; Piper, 2003), development of syntax (Gopaul-McNicol & Thomas-Presswood, 1998; Kuder, 2003), or semantic development (Mercel, 1987)in a second language learner. Because of the longer time required to acquire cognitive academic language proficiency, educators may incorrectly identify delays as a learning disability rather than a language development/difference issue (Cummins, 1984; Ortiz, 1997; Ruiz, 1995). Questions for the student study team and assessors to consider prior to making a referral for an EL student to special education might be:

  • Has the student received intensive interventions using appropriate materials and strategies designed for ELs, and have they been implemented with fidelity over time and demonstrated little or no progress?




  • Does the team have data regarding the rate of learning over time to support that the difficulties (academic, social-emotional, or in speech & language) are most likely due to a disability versus a language difference? If answers to the questions above are “YES,” a referral to special education maybe appropriate.




  • Has the team consulted with the parent regarding learning patterns and language use in the home?




  • Are the error patterns seen in L1 similar to the patterns seen in L2 (if student has sufficient primary language skills)?




  • Are the learning difficulties and/or language acquisition patterns manifested over time similar in different settings and in different contexts?


Legal Requirements for Assessment of ELs
Pursuant to The Code of Federal Regulations (34 CFR 300.304 (1) (i) (ii)), assessments and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this part are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis; and are provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication and in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is clearly not feasible to so provide or administer. California Education Code further stipulates that testing and assessment materials and procedures used for the purposes of assessment and placement of individuals with exceptional needs are selected and administered so as not to be racially, culturally, or sexually discriminatory. For assessment to determine eligibility for infants and toddlers, the assessment shall “be conducted in the language of the family’s choice or other mode of communication unless it is it is not feasible to do so” (California Ed Code (EC) 56320, 56001(j), 56127, 52082(b), & 52084(d)). Following are legal citations related to the requirements for teams to consider prior to referring EL students for special education:

  1. ”A pupil shall be referred for special education services only after the resources of the regular education program have been considered, and when appropriate, utilized” (California Ed Code (EC) 56303).

  2. The normal process of 2nd language acquisition, as well as manifestations of dialect and sociolinguistic variance shall not be diagnosed as a handicapping condition (CCR) Title 5 3023(b)).

  3. A child may not be determined to be eligible…if the determinant factor for that eligible determination is…1) lack of instruction in reading or math, or limited English proficiency…. (CFR 300.534 (b)).

Assessment of EL Students for Special Education
Professionals assessing English learners should not only evaluate English interpersonal communication skills, but should also utilize formal or informal assessments that measure the literacy-related aspects of language. For example, assessors should analyze the EL student’s ability to understand teacher-talk (e.g., tests of dictation or story retelling) and whether she/he can handle the language found in texts (e.g., close procedures or comprehension checks which measure inferential skills). Unless these skills are measured, teachers may attribute low achievement to learning disabilities when they may, in fact, be related to lack of academic language proficiency. Frequently, students at greatest risk of being misdiagnosed as handicapped are those who have received EL instruction long enough to acquire basic interpersonal communication skills which takes approximately 1 to 2 years, but who need more time to develop academic language proficiency which takes approximately 5-7 years (Garcia & Ortiz, 2004).

It is also imperative to assess in the student’s primary language when feasible. It provides comparative data to the IEP team about how the student performs in the primary language versus English. In addition, the assessor (psychologist, speech & language specialist, special educator, etc.) can determine if similar error patterns are seen in both the primary language and English (listening, speaking, reading, or writing) in order to discern if the student is having academic difficulty due to a language difference or a disability.

Note that there is no legal requirement to formally identify preschool students as English learners, as there is no assessment process designated for this purpose in the State of California; however, the IEP team must follow bilingual assessment protocol to determine the language of preference of the student if the parent indicates that a language other than English is spoken at home and assess according to second language learner requirements (California Ed Code (EC) 56440 and 56441.11).
Suggested best practices to guide assessment decisions are:


  • An assessor fluent in both languages should assess to determine the student’s language of preference to guide the assessment team regarding types of assessment to be performed by using like instruments in primary language and English when available. This is referred to as “bilingual assessment” (Artiles & Ortiz, 2002).

  • All assessors should assess in the language of preference when possible.

  • If primary language assessments are not available, use non-verbal measures to inform decisions.

  • Assessors need training in second language acquisition and assessment.

  • The decisions made regarding language modality to assess in should be clearly documented in the assessment reports.

Some possible examples of when it may not “be feasible” to assess in the student’s primary language are:



  • The student is severely handicapped and lacks communication skills.

  • Primary language assessments are unavailable. It is best practice to interview parent/guardian about the student’s patterns of use in their primary language patterns through use of an interpreter.

IEP teams also must decide on the form of the assessment most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically when making determinations about how and when to assess in the primary language.

It may be best practice for a psychologist or speech pathologist to conduct preliminary primary language assessment to determine the “dominant” language of the student (in terms of academic performance, language processing, and cognition) in order to inform other assessors about the language to assess in. If preliminary assessment data indicates the student has little or no skills in the primary language (cognition and speech & language included), the team may opt to continue the remainder of the assessment in part, or in whole, in English. For example, a student may have oral language and cognition skills in the primary language, but have little or no skills in academics to due to their current language of instruction being primarily in English. The assessment team may opt to continue academic assessment in English and complete cognitive and speech assessment in the primary language. If the IEP team makes the decision to discontinue any portion of the assessment in the primary language, they must clearly document how or why they came to this decision in the assessment report and IEP.

Assessors should also address socio-cultural factors as part of the assessment process. The following four sources of information may be used to help address socio-cultural factors related to English learners:



  1. Norm-referenced assessments in English and the student’s *primary language (if primary language assessments are available)

  2. Criterion-referenced tests

  3. Systematic observation in educational environments

  4. Structured interviews (with student, parent, teachers, etc.)

Following is a list of the different areas of assessment and specific tools that may be utilized by professionals for use with students who are English learners to determine if they are eligible for special education:


Cognitive Assessment

The following bilingual test instruments are frequently used by psychologists to evaluate EL/bilingual students:



  • The Bilingual Verbal Ability Test (BVAT)

  • KABC (English & Spanish)

  • Bateria III Woodcock-Munoz

  • Spanish WISC

  • Southern California Ordinal Scales of Development:

  • Development Scale of Cognition

  • Cognitive Assessment System (CAS)

  • Use of an Authentic Language Sample from home and school (collaborate with speech & language specialist)

In addition, psychologists frequently may opt to administer non-verbal tests of cognitive abilities as part of an assessment of an EL student; however, assessors should not solely rely on the use of non-verbal tests to inform eligibility decisions since this type of assessment data may provide limited information about the student’s overall cognitive abilities. It is also limiting in that one is comparing verbal to non-verbal behaviors, which can sometimes complicate the picture. An assessor should assess a range of abilities using cross battery assessment (P. Olvera, Ph. D., personal communication, May 21, 2010; Artiles & Ortiz 2005).

Following is a list of possible non-verbal assessment tools that are frequently used by school psychologists:


  • The Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test (Unit)

  • Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test

  • Naglieri Nonverbal Abilities Test (NNAT)

  • Test of Non-verbal Intelligence (CTONI)

  • Leiter

  • Test of Visual Perceptual Skills (TPVS)

It is recommended that as standard procedure assessors investigate the student’s use of their primary language by engaging in conversation with interpreters who speak the student’s primary language and same dialect. Some bilingual assessment experts recommend that psychologists use cognitive assessment measures of evaluation that include many developmental and experiential activities.

Speech and Language Assessment for English Learners

The following speech and language test instruments are frequently used to evaluate EL bilingual students:



  • PPVT: 3/TVIP

  • EOWPVT:Bilingual

  • CELF:IV Eng/Span versions

  • TAPS:3 Eng/Span versions

  • Goldman-Fristoe/La Meda (articulation)

  • BVAT-The Bilingual Verbal Ability Tests (BVAT) measures bilingual verbal ability, or the unique combination of cognitive/academic language abilities possessed by bilingual individuals in English and another language

  • Language Sample- in English and native language

  • ROWPVT (Spanish Bilingual Version)

  • Woodcock-Munoz Language Survey (WMLS-R)

  • Idea Proficiency Test (IPT – II)

Assessors should practice caution since there may be some limitations with age norms, as with the expressive language measures which only go to 12 years old for the bilingual portion. For newcomers, some assessors administer all the Spanish portions of the above tests and try the PPVT and EOWPVT English version as well to see if there is any appreciable English vocabulary.  Some speech and language assessors start off with the vocabulary measures to see where the student may have deficits and then move to the more complex measures. One scenario may be that an EL student has limited language proficiency skills in both languages, or has somewhat limited skills in English and is even more limited in his/her primary language. In addition, the student engages in code switching and there seems to be confusion in both languages.  It is important for the assessor to discern if this is due to lack of quality instruction over time in both languages, prior schooling in English only, or other environmental reasons such as the use of both languages at home versus it being a language or learning disability. It may also be very useful for the speech and language assessor to attend the SST or other team meetings for EL students who may potentially be referred for assessment. The assessor can then talk to the parents and get more background information on the student. It is also best practice for bilingual assessors to observe the students in their classrooms and talk to their teachers about their patterns of learning, along with gathering information about both languages and the use of each across different contexts with different people.

One issue may be that the student attended school but did not receive an appropriate curriculum, or may have missed a lot of school due to illness, or other reasons. The clinician must determine if the language level is commensurate with the student’s actual education. Also, one must consider if the student’s language is a mirror of the models in the home.

CELDT test scores should also be used as a measure of the student’s current level of functioning in regards to understanding reading, writing, and being able to speak in English, as well as to determine if additional assessment may needed in the student’s primary language.

One bilingual speech and language specialist reported that she frequently sees students who talk to their family and peers in their native language and seem fluent in both languages (English and their primary language); however, because the students’ use of their primary language is very simple and concrete, they can't understand more complex test directions in their native language, nor can they adequately complete the more difficult primary language tests. Further, she reports that their English is also frequently not well-developed, but they are able to function at a somewhat higher level and complete the English portions of the tests. She indicates most of the EL students she has assessed have stronger English language skills and but lack age-appropriate primary language skills (J. Sheills, SLP, personal communication, April 15, 2010).

It is also recommended that speech and language assessors conduct conversational sampling in both languages to check for functional language and pragmatic/social language issues.

When it appears that a student can't really understand directions in their primary language and/or responds to test items consistently in English, it may be advisable to discontinue administering the primary language portions of the assessment and complete the testing in English. As mentioned earlier, it is recommended that assessors document this process in their assessment reports.  A word of caution, the assessment results given in English must be interpreted in relation to the EL’s process of acquiring English.



Academic Assessment for ELs When assessing the academic skills of an English learner to determine eligibility for special education, it is required to assess in both the primary language and English skills (unless it has been determined that the student has little or no academic skills in the primary language).

When assessing academic skills in the primary language one needs to consider the amount and quality of primary language academic instruction an English learner has received. Some of the factors that need to be considered are: (1) last grade completed if the EL attended school in the native country, (2) amount of time passed since the EL has received native language instruction, (3) amount of native language instruction the EL has received since leaving the native country (e.g. dual immersion program vs. transitional bilingual program), (4) subjects taught in the native language, and (5) levels of academic achievement in the native language when first entering the United States. Often an EL born in the United States has only received instruction in school in English; however, one cannot assume that this student is unable to read and/or write their primary language.

If the EL’s primary language is other than Spanish, then informal assessment of the primary language skills for reading, writing, and math must be conducted to the extent possible. If an interpreter is used for assessing academic skills using English instruments that haven’t been normed on the translation, then numerical scores should not be used. The information obtained using an interpreter must be noted in assessment reports and shared at the IEP meeting for decision-making purposes. For example, after giving the “Applied Problems” subtest from the Woodcock Johnson III (W-J III) in English to an EL, an interpreter is then used to check if the student would perform better after hearing the problem read in their primary language. A new score could not be obtained, but if the EL was more successful after hearing the problem in their primary language, then the “difficulty” could be due to second language acquisition rather than a learning disability affecting math skills. The effect of “test/retest validity” does need to be considered in these cases and included in the assessment report.

To date, there are a limited number of standardized academic assessments available in languages other than English. Some possible academic assessment instruments that may be used to assess students whose primary language is Spanish are:



  • Bateria III Woodcock-Munoz

  • Language Assessment Scales (LAS)

  • Spanish Brigance (criterion-referenced)

  • Use of Dibels and Curriculum based measures if available (not standardized)



Social-Emotional / Cultural Assessment for English Learners

To date, there are a limited number of social-emotional assessments available in languages other than English.



  • BASC – Pearson Assessments

  • Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans (ARSMA)

  • Spanish Version of the Social Skills Rating System

  • Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales

  • Connors Spanish



Use of Interpreters for Assessment
It is recommended that the following steps be taken in preparation for use of an interpreter in assessment:

  1. Know what tests are being administered

  2. Be prepared for the session to account for extra time needed with an interpreter

  3. Know the skill level of the interpreter

  4. Ensure the interpreter speaks the same dialect of the student

  5. Administer only the tests which the interpreter has been trained to assist in administering

The following briefing procedures are recommended prior to administering assessments with use of an interpreter (assessor and interpreter review together):



  1. Go over the general purpose of the assessment session with interpreter.

  2. Describe to the interpreter the assessment instruments that will be administered.

  3. Provide the interpreter information about the student.

  4. Review English test behavior with the interpreter, if applicable.

  5. Reminder the interpreter they he or she should make a written not of all behaviors observed during the assessment.

  6. Allow time for the interpreter to organize materials, re-read the test procedures, and ask for clarification if needed.

  7. Remind interpreter that they will need to follow the exact protocol

of the test (ex: can they repeat question, cue, etc).
The following debriefing procedures are recommended after the interpreter has assisted with an assessment:

  1. Ask interpreter to go over each of the test responses without making clinical judgment.

  2. Go over any difficulties relative to the testing process.

  3. Go over any difficulties relative to the interpretation process.

  4. Go over any other items relevant to assessment process.

The following best practices are recommended when conferencing with parents with the use of an interpreter:



  1. Observe body language when meeting with an interpreter and parent. Rely on interpreter to assist you in understanding culturally appropriate behavior.

  2. If the interpreter is used with the parent, avoid portraying the interpreter as the parent’s representative or advocate – stay professional.

  3. Seating arrangements are critical. Give the name and position of each person present. The interpreter should not in any way block the parent from the school person. Parents must be able to see both interpreter and assessor.

  4. The interpreter should only translate not editorialize or give opinion.

  5. The educator needs to speak to the parent, not to the interpreter.


Components of the Assessment Report for ELs
Assessment reports for EL students are required to have the following documentation included in the report.

  1. Impact of language, cultural, environmental and economic factors in learning

  2. How standardized tests and techniques were altered

  3. Use of the interpreters, translations for tests; include a statement of validity and reliability related to the use of such

  4. Examiner’s level of language proficiency in language of student and the effect on test results and overall assessment

(5 CCR 3023; California Ed Code (EC) 56341 & 56327)


It is best practice to include cross-validation of information between norm-referenced, criterion, and interview/observation based measures, to include

information from home setting. In addition, it is best practice to include the following in an assessment report for a student who is EL/bilingual:



  • Consideration of the second language acquisition process and its relationship to the possible handicapping conditions

  • Results of current language proficiency testing

  • If and how standardized tests and techniques were altered

  • A statement of student limitations if non-verbal measures were used

  • Recommendations for linguistically appropriate goals

  • Test scores and interpretation of the scores - what do they mean and how do the test scores/results relate to the student’s performance in school and in life.

Lastly, remember that reports should be translated into the primary language if

requested by the parent/guardian.
Determining Eligibility for Special Education
When looking at an English learner’s performance on an English academic test, such as the WJ III, one needs to view this assessment as a possible level of second language acquisition and not necessarily a true measurement of the EL’s academic skills. When interpreting the levels of achievement on the English tests, one must factor in such things as the grade/age the EL was first exposed to English, the amount, consistency and type of schooling, and EL services the student has received, etc. This needs to be documented in the assessment report and taken into consideration when eligibility decisions are being made.

Remember, if an EL has been assessed in similar tests in the native language and English, and if a discrepancy model is being used to qualify a student as learning disabled (LD), the highest cluster scores need to be used for purposes of qualifying the student for special education. For example, if an EL whose native language is Spanish receives a standard score (SS) of 95 on the Spanish test for “Basic Reading Skills” and a SS of 80 on the English test for “Basic Reading Skills,” then the 95 would be used to calculate the discrepancy between ability and achievement; however, both scores should be reported in the assessment report. If an EL receives a SS score of 95 in English “Basic Math Skills” and an 80 SS in Spanish on “Basic Math Skills,” then the 95 would be used to calculate the discrepancy.


Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Are there any written guidelines or procedures for the assessment of preschool age students who are bilingual or who have a primary or dominant language that is other than English?  Our preschool assessment teams are having a hard time with this in consideration of special ed eligibility (in many situations without consideration of language differences.)

Response: No. There are no clear written laws that pertain specifically to preschool students. However, in California, we typically rely on EL status to trigger primary or native language assessment. Since we do not classify preschool children as EL and require them to take the CELDT or a like test, it is presumed the federal laws regarding native language assessment apply. For infants and toddlers, the family may choose the mode of communication for assessment.  The assessors of preschool students must also rule out a language difference versus a disability in order to establish eligibility.

Question: Are districts required to assess an English learner with moderate to severe disabilities in their primary language in order to qualify them for special education?

Response: The regulations state you must assess in the native language unless it is clearly not feasible to do so. Based on the severity and type of disability, it may not be feasible to assess in the native language. The IEP team should determine the type of assessments that are most appropriate to assess the student’s needs and/or eligibility.

Question: May the parent waive the requirement for a student to be assessed for special education in their primary language?

Response: There is no specific provision for a parent to waive assessment in the primary language. A parent may decline assessment in part or in whole; however, the assessors determine the language for the assessments to be administered in.

Question: Is it required that an interpreter who assists an assessor administer a test in the primary language be certified or receive formal training?

Response: No; however, it is best practice to ensure that interpreters are fluent in the language of the assessment and have been appropriately trained to interpret in a formal assessment setting since the validity of the test results must be documented.
Question: Is it true that schools or student study teams must wait until a student has been receiving EL services for 5-7 years or is at least in the 5th grade so he or she can fully develop his or her English language skills before being referred for special education?

Response: No, this is a common “myth.” Disabilities occur in primary and second languages and across all contexts. It is required that assessors rule out that the student has a disability versus a language difference. Skilled assessors trained in second language acquisition and bilingual assessment can make this determination even if the student has not fully acquired English (Fortune, 2010).

Section V
Development of the Individual Education Program (IEP) for

English Learners with Disabilities

To properly meet the complex needs of students identified as English learners (EL) who have disabilities, education professionals from various disciplines must effectively collaborate and involve families in the process. This requires that general education teachers, special educators, and staff members who have expertise in EL issues consult and collaborate to design and implement effective individualized programs (IEPs) and services for individuals with disabilities to ensure optimal educational outcomes for this diverse group of learners.



Development of Linguistically Appropriate IEPs

Why write linguistically appropriate IEPs? Because it is the law.

When appropriate the individualized education program shall also include, but not be limited to, all of the following: “for individuals whose native language is other than English, linguistically appropriate goals, objectives, programs and services” (EC 56345(b). The individualized education program (IEP) is a written document that is developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education services. The IEP is created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year. The required “IEP Team” members are:


  1. The parents of a child with a disability;

  2. Not less than one regular education teacher of such child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment);

  3. Not less than one special education teacher, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of such child;

  4. A representative of the Local Education Agency (LEA) who is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities; knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and, knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the LEA;

  5. An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, and who may be a member of the team described above;

  6. At the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate; and

  7. Whenever appropriate, the child with a disability.

(34 CFR 300.321(a)(6)-(7); EC 56341(b)(6)-(7))
For EL students it is best practice to invite staff members to the IEP who have expertise in English language development and can also interpret the results of CELDT testing and primary language testing when applicable (Reid, 2010).

The IEP team must ensure that parents are provided copies of the IEP notice in their primary language. In addition, districts must ensure that parents understand the proceedings of the IEP meeting. This may require the district to provide an interpreter if necessary. Parents also have the right to request that a copy of the IEP be provided to them in their primary language. It is also best practice to provide a copy of the assessment reports in the parents’ primary language if requested; however, this requirement is not clear in the regulations (Reid, 2010).

Further, teachers (special educators included) providing students with district core curriculum must be appropriately certified to provide services to EL students.
Required IEP Components for EL Students
The IEP team must consider the language needs of the student as those needs relate to the student’s IEP. Specifically, the IEP must include “linguistically appropriate goals, objectives, programs and services”. There are also specific IEP team requirements relative to making decisions about whether or not the student will take CELDT or an alternative measure to measure English proficiency progress, as well as whether or not accommodations or modifications will be needed for the student to take CELDT.
(20 USC 1414(d) (3) (b) (ii); 34 CFR 300.324 (a) (2) (ii); 30 EC 56345 (b) (2); 30 EC 56341.1 (b) (2))
Below is a checklist for staff members to use when drafting IEP’s for ELS:


  • The IEP indicates if the student is classified as an English learner

  • The IEP includes information about the student’s current level of English language proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing (based on current CELDT or alternative assessment scores/levels)

  • The IEP indicates if the student is going to take CELDT or requires an alternate assessments to CELDT and, if so, what the alternate assessment(s) utilized will be

  • The IEP indicates which testing accommodations or modifications the student may utilize for CELDT

  • The IEP indicates how English language development (ELD) needs will be met and who will provide those services

Note: Indicate the setting, duration and frequency

  • The IEP indicates if primary language support is needed

  • The IEP indicates what language will be the language of instruction

  • The IEP includes goals and objectives that are linguistically appropriate



Note: Linguistically appropriate goals should align to the student’s assessed level on the CELDT (or designated alternate assessment) and the CDE English Language Development (ELD) Standards.
Decisions Regarding CELDT Testing

Most students with disabilities take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) along with all other students under standard conditions. Some students with disabilities may require test variations, accommodations, and/or modifications or may take alternate assessments. Test variations are allowed for any student who regularly uses them in the classroom. Accommodations, modifications, and/or alternate assessments must be specified in each student’s IEP or Section 504 Plan. Before any test variation is used, the following two activities should be considered when preparing or updating the IEP:



  1. IEP teams should review Matrix 1 in the Matrix of Test Variations, Accommodations, and Modifications for Administration of California Statewide Assessments. (see Appendix B1 or go to the following web page at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/el/resources.asp).


Note: (1) using variations and accommodations produces valid results because they do not alter what the test measures and (2) using modifications or taking an alternate assessment produces invalid results because they alter what the test measures.


  1. IEP teams should discuss the impact of modifications or alternate assessments on the CELDT resulting in scores that are not valid.

Most students with disabilities take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) along with all other students under standard conditions. Some students with disabilities may require test variations, accommodations, and/or modifications or may take alternate assessments. Test variations are allowed for any student who regularly uses them in the classroom. If a student requires accommodations, modifications, and/or alternate assessments, it must be specified in his or her IEP or Section 504 Plan. Before any test variation is used, the following two activities should be considered by the IEP team:



  1. The IEP team determine should determine if the student’s disability would preclude him or her from taking any or all domains of the CELDT (with or without variations, accommodations, and/or modifications).




  1. IEP teams should review Matrix 1 in the Matrix of Test Variations, Accommodations, and Modifications for Administration of California Statewide Assessments. (see Appendix B1 or go to the following web page at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/el/resources.asp).




  1. IEP teams should discuss the impact of modifications or alternate assessments on the CELDT resulting in scores that are not valid.

(Title 5 California Code of Regulations, CELDT; IDEA Improvement Act of 2004 and No Child Left Behind [NCLB] Act of 2001)
Note: (1) using variations and accommodations produces valid results because they do not alter what the test measures and (2) using modifications or taking an alternate assessment produces invalid results because they alter what the test measures.
(Title 5 California Code of Regulations, CELDT; IDEA Improvement Act of 2004 and No Child Left Behind [NCLB] Act of 2001)

Some ELs with an IEP may need to take an alternate assessment to CELDT for initial or follow-up annual language proficiency testing. If the IEP team determines that the student’s disability would preclude him or her from taking any or all domains of the CELDT (with or without variations, accommodations, and/or modifications), they must determine which alternate assessment(s) is needed for the domain(s) of the CELDT that the student is unable to take. The IEP team must also note how the student’s disability precludes the student from taking any or all sections of the CELDT.


Linguistically Appropriate Goals & Objectives (LAGOS)

It is required that the IEP for an English Learner include linguistically appropriate goals (and objectives for students receiving a functional skills level curriculum) which lead to the development of English language proficiency.


Linguistically appropriate goals, objectives, and programs means those activities which lead to the development of English language proficiency; and those instructional systems which lead to the language development of English language proficiency; and those instructional systems which lead to the language development needs of English language learner. For individuals whose primary language is other than English, and whose potential for learning a second language, as determined by the individualized education program team, is severely limited, the IEP team may determine that instruction may be provided through an alternative program (where instruction is provided in the primary language), including a program provided in the individual’s primary language. The IEP team must periodically, but not less than annually, reconsider the individual’s ability to receive instruction in the English language (EC Section 311(c); CR, Title 5, Section 3001 (s)).
Note: Even though it is not a legal requirement to formally identify a preschool age student as an English Learner in California, federal regulations require the IEP team to determine if the student is an English leaner for purposes of the IEP and include linguistically appropriate goals and services.
Linguistically Appropriate IEP goals (LAGOS) for ELs should:

  • Be appropriate for the cognitive level of the student;

  • Be appropriate for the linguistic level of the student;

  • Match the developmental level of the student’s primary (L1) or secondary (L2) language;

  • Match the student’s general education transition criteria and

reclassification policy (i.e., from EL to FEP);

  • Access the student’s prior knowledge and experiences;

  • Incorporate culturally relevant materials and experiences; and

  • Affirm the student’s cultural heritage.

In California, it is recommended that linguistically appropriate goals (LAGOS) be aligned to the California English Language Development Standards (California English Language Development Standards, 1999). The California English Language Development Standards are available for download at www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/index.asp)



  • Kindergarten – grade 2

  • Grades 3 – 12, literate in their primary language

  • Grades 3 – 12, not literate in their primary language


The CDE ELD Standards document further clarifies that “Students who enter California schools in those grade levels not literate in their primary language need to be taught the ELD literacy standards for earlier grade levels, including those standards related to phonemic awareness, concepts of print, and decoding skills.”
The following are samples of linguistically appropriate goals (LAGOS) that meet the criteria of being linguistically appropriate and are based on the California English Language Development Standards. Use these as models in developing IEP goals that address the unique needs of your student. Always remember to take into consideration the student’s present levels of performance, language proficiency, and learning style when selecting ELD standards to base your LAGOS on.
Note: Remember that you must develop a minimum of two (2) benchmark objectives for each goal if the curriculum the student uses is considered an alternative-curriculum that focuses on “life-skills”.



Sample Goal 1

Domain: Listening & Speaking

Strand: Strategies & Applications

Sub Strand: Comprehension

Level: Beginning

Grade: K-2

Goal: By (date) , (student) will respond to simple directions and questions in English by using physical actions and other means of nonverbal communication (e.g., matching objects, pointing to an answer, drawing pictures) with 80% accuracy on 3 consecutive trials as demonstrated by written classroom data.
Objective: By (date) , (student) will respond to simple directions and questions in English by using physical actions and other means of nonverbal communication (e.g., matching objects, pointing to an answer, drawing pictures) with 40% accuracy on 2 consecutive trials as demonstrated by written classroom data.
Objective: By (date) , (student) will respond to simple directions and questions in English by using physical actions and other means of nonverbal communication (e.g., matching objects, pointing to an answer, drawing pictures) with 60% accuracy on 3 consecutive trials as demonstrated by written classroom data.
Note: The above goal & objectives are written at the “beginning” level of English language development and would be appropriate for a student whose CELDT score is at the beginning level in listening. This goal was adapted from the California ELD Standards published in 1999.

Sample Goal 2

Domain: Reading

Strand: Word Analysis

Sub Strand: Concepts about Print, Phonemic Awareness, and Vocabulary and Concept development

Level: Early Intermediate

Grade: 3-5
Goal: By (date) , (student) , while reading aloud a short passage of

8-10 lines at grade level, will recognize and produce English phonemes that do not correspond to phonemes he or she already hears and produces with 80% accuracy on 3 consecutive trials as demonstrated by data tracking records.


Objective: By (date) , (student) , while reading aloud a short passage of 1-2 lines at grade level, will recognize and produce English phonemes that do not correspond to phonemes he or she already hears and produces with 40% accuracy on 2 consecutive trials as demonstrated by data tracking records.
Objective: By (date) , (student) , while reading aloud a short passage of 3-4 lines at grade level, will recognize and produce English phonemes that do not correspond to phonemes he or she already hears and produces with 60% accuracy on 3 consecutive trials as demonstrated by data tracking records.
Note: The above goal & objectives are written at the “early intermediate” level of English language development and would be appropriate for a student whose CELDT score is at the beginning to early intermediate level in reading word analysis. This goal was adapted from the California ELD Standards published in 1999.
Sample Goal 3

Domain: Writing

Strand: Strategies & Applications

Sub Strand: Organization & Focus

Level: Intermediate

Grade: 6-8

Goal: By (date) , (student) will develop a clear purpose in a short essay (two to three paragraphs) by appropriately using the rhetorical devices of quotations and facts with 90% accuracy on 3 consecutive trials as demonstrated by a written response to a prompt.
Objective: By (date) , (student) will develop a clear purpose in a short essay (two to three paragraphs) by appropriately using the rhetorical devices of quotations and facts with 50% accuracy on 2 consecutive trials as demonstrated by a written response to a prompt.
Objective: By (date) , (student) will develop a clear purpose in a short essay (two to three paragraphs) by appropriately using the rhetorical devices of quotations and facts with 80% accuracy on 3 consecutive trials as demonstrated by a written response to a prompt.
Note: The above goal & objectives are written at the “intermediate” level of English language development and would be appropriate for a student whose CELDT score is at the early intermediate level in writing. This goal was adapted from the California ELD Standards published in 1999.



Sample Goal 4

Domain: Reading

Strand: Fluency & Systemic Vocabulary Development

Sub Strand: Vocabulary & Concept Development

Level: Early Advanced

Grade: 9-12

Goal: By (date) , (student) will use a standard dictionary to determine the meaning of a list of 20 unknown words (e.g., idioms and words with multiple meanings) with 80% accuracy on 2 consecutive trials as demonstrated by classroom written records.
Objective: By (date) , (student) will use a standard dictionary to deter-mine the meaning of a list of 100 unknown words (e.g., idioms and words with multiple meanings) with 60% accuracy on 2 consecutive trials as demonstrated by classroom written records.
Objective: By (date) , (student) will use a standard dictionary to

determine the meaning of a list of 10 unknown words (e.g., idioms and words with multiple meanings) with 80% accuracy on 2 consecutive trials as demonstrated by classroom written records.


Note: The above goal & objectives are written at the “early advanced” level of English language development and would be appropriate for a student whose CELDT score is at the intermediate level in reading vocabulary. This goal was adapted from the California ELD Standards published in 1999.

IEP Accommodations & Modifications

The IEP should stipulate appropriate accommodations and/or modifications that may be needed to assist the student who is an English learner be successful in an educational setting.


Examples of accommodations that may by appropriate to consider for students learning English may be but are not limited to the following:

  • Primary language support to assist with academics

  • Translation devices

  • Extra time on tests and assignments

  • Use of reference materials with visuals to aide comprehension

  • Bilingual dictionary if applicable to second language

Examples of modifications that may by appropriate to consider for students learning English may be but are not limited to the following:



  • Tests provided or adapted to be more “comprehensible”

  • Tests and assignments modified in length and content

  • Alternative testing formats such as use of visuals, drawings, etc.


Other Legal Requirements Related to IEPs of ELs
Section 3302 of Title III of NCLB requires school districts receiving Title III funds, “no later than 30 days after the beginning of the school year or within two weeks of a student’s placement in a language instruction program after the beginning of the school year, to inform parents or guardians of (1) the reasons for their student’s identification as an English learner and (2) the need for placement in the specified program. Parents or guardians of English learners with an individualized education program (IEP) must be notified how the recommended placement will help their child to meet the objectives of the IEP.” This requirement is typically met through a letter that is sent out through the English Learner Department (see sample letter in Appendix B2).
Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Is it required that the IEP team classify preschool students as EL?

Response: There is no formal process in place in the State of California to identify/classify students in preschool as English Learners. IEP teams still need to take into consideration the language needs of the student in order to develop linguistically appropriate IEPs for students who, through the assessment process are determined to be more proficient in a language other than English (CDE Special Education Division, 2010).
Question: Is it required for an EL student who is identified as having a learning disability to receive only instruction in English so as not to confuse the student?

Response: There is research that indicates that the student may acquire L2 easier if they are proficient in L1. This needs to be an IEP team needs to carefully consider the individual needs of the student before making this decision

(Fortune, 2010).







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