With Contributions to Section 6 by Trena Spurlock, MA, Pomona SELPA.
This handbook provides regular and special educators information and resources regarding best practices and legal requirements for identifying, providing services, and reclassifying English Learners with disabilities
Acknowledgements Nancy Sondgrass, Bilingual SPED Resource Teacher Turlock Unified School District
Dr. Michael Gerber, University of California Santa Barbara
Dr. Sue Balt, Riverside County SELPA Director
Sheila Levy-Cravens, SLP, Retired SELPA Director & Committee Member
This manual is intended as a tool to assist both regular and special educators to meet the needs of students who are identified as English learners (EL) and may possibly need to be identified or are currently identified for special education. Topics covered are: intended audience, effective leadership practices to ensure success for English learners with disabilities, as well as an overview of second language acquisition theory.
Background Information English learners are the fastest growing subgroup of children in the public school population with an annual increase of about 10% and a 72% increase overall between 1992 and 2002. LEP students represent about 8.4% of all public school students and they are enrolled in about half of public schools nationwide. Local education agencies (LEAs) reported that 77% of all LEP students have Spanish as their native language. The next two largest native language groups among LEP students are Vietnamese (2.4%) and Hmong (1.8%).
California has one of the most diverse EL populations. ELs in California come from many ethnic groups and speak a variety of languages and dialects and enter school with varying levels of English proficiency. In 2007–08, there were 630,638 California students in kindergarten through grade twelve in special education. Of that number, 185,404 (or 29.3 percent) were English learners. This is an increase of 6.3 percent over the prior year (Data Quest, 2009). There seems to be an increase in the percentage of English learners who are identified for special education each year.
Some studies indicate that there is disproportional representation of some categories of special education disabilities in California. Based on a sample of 11 urban school districts in California, Artiles et al. (2005) found that ELs were overrepresented in mental retardation, learning disabilities, and speech & language impairment categories in the upper elementary and secondary grades. ELs with limited language proficiency in both their native language and English were overrepresented in special education across all grade levels. Also, ELs with less native language support in their educational programs were overrepresented. Further investigation must occur to help understand the many factors that may be contributing this disproportional trend of English learners being identified for special education (Data Quest, 2009).
In a survey of LEAs, which included all disability categories, findings indicated that 9% of all EL students were eligible for special education services compared to 13.5% of all students. Nationally, EL students are underrepresented in special education; but there is great variability by jurisdiction and the national average masks pockets of both overrepresentation and underrepresentation. For example, “districts with smaller EL student populations (99 or fewer LEP students) identify on average 15.8% of their EL students for special education services, while districts with 100 or more LEP students identify on average 9.1% of their LEP students for special education”(Keller-Allen, 2006). The disproportionate representation of children from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds in special education is a longstanding national issue and continues to concern the public.
It is imperative that LEAs focus on the underrepresentation or “missed representation” of ELs in special education. In their book Special Considerations for English Language Learners, Hamayan, Marler, Sanchez-Lopez & Damico (2007) indicate that it is a dangerous practice for schools to wait until students are English proficient before examining a possible need for special education services. They feel it is a practice that may result in unnecessarily denying service to students in need of special assistance.
Some students who are English learners 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 English learners: professionals’ knowledge of second language development and disabilities, instructional practices, intervention strategies, and assessment tools (Sanchez et al., 2010).
Intended Audience Local educational agencies are required by state and federal laws to implement programs and services to ensure that all English learners, including those with disabilities, become fluent in English and achieve academically in school. This manual is intended to assist general and special education administrators and teachers, other special education staff, and English language support staff in fully understanding the needs of K-12 English learners who may have disabilities. This manual will provide information that may help to a) prevent premature and/or inappropriate identification as students with disabilities; b) identify English learners who do have disabilities requiring special education services; c) implement the IEP process for these students; and d) monitor each student’s progress as they move toward meeting the linguistically appropriate (ELD) goals established by their IEP team.
Since each child’s language proficiency and academic needs differ so widely, it is a challenge to create a single structure to guide districts in assessing these students and determining how to meet their specific academic and language needs. Only when special education, general education, and English learner program staff are working closely together can the needs of English learners with disabilities be effectively supported in an education environment. This manual provides an overview of the key issues and a general process for effectively addressing their needs as learners.
Effective Educational Leadership In order to ensure that there is the appropriate allocation of resources for program improvement efforts related to English learners with disabilities, district and site level leadership should be provided with professional development in the following areas:
IDEA & State Legal Requirements Related to Identification of and IEP
Development for English Learners With Disabilities
Effective Delivery and Instructional Content Design for ELs With Disabilities
How to Promote Effective Collaboration Between General Education, Special Education, and English Learner Professionals
Overview of Second Language Acquisition Theory
An understanding of second language acquisition theory can improve the ability of general and special education teachers to serve the culturally and linguistically diverse students in their classrooms or on their caseloads (Fillmore and Snow, 2000; Hamayan, 2007). Current theories of second language acquisition are based on years of research in a wide variety of fields, including linguistics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and neurolinguistics (Freeman & Freeman, 2001). One concept endorsed by most current theorists is that of a continuum of learning that is, predictable and consists of sequential stages of language development in which the learner progresses from no knowledge of the new language to a level of competency closely resembling that of a native speaker. These theories have resulted in the identification of several distinct stages of second language development (Krashen, 1981). Understanding that students are going through a predictable and sequential series of developmental stages helps teachers predict and accept a student’s current stage, while modifying instruction to encourage progression to the next stage. Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis is another concept that has found wide acceptance with both researchers and EL instructors (Krashen, 1981; Krashen & Terrell, 1983). This theory suggests that an individual’s emotions can directly interfere or assist in the learning of a new language. According to Krashen (1981), learning a new language is different from learning other subjects because it requires public practice. Speaking out in a new language can result in anxiety, embarrassment, or anger. These negative emotions can create a kind of filter that blocks the learner’s ability to process new or difficult words. Classrooms that are fully engaging, nonthreatening, and affirming of a child’s native language and cultural heritage can have a direct effect on the student’s ability to learn by increasing motivation and encouraging risk taking. Krashen’s stages of 2nd language acquisition are identified in the chart on the following page.
KRASHEN’s STAGES OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
Silent/Receptive or Preproduction Stage
10 hours to 6 mo.
Student has up to 500 receptive words
Able to understand new words made comprehensible; involves “silent period” but can use gestures, yes, no, etc.
Teacher should not force student to speak until they are ready
Provide structured English instruction w/ comprehensible input & first language support for instruction
Student has developed up to 6,000 receptive/active words they can use
Student can make complex statements; state opinions; ask for clarifications; and share thoughts
Teachers can use more complex questions and conversations in English
Students can be fully mainstreamed with English speaking peers
Advanced Language Proficiency Stage
5 to 7 years
Student has developed some specialized content-area vocabulary
Student is able to participate fully in grade-level activities; able to speak English comparable to same age native speakers
Teachers can provide instruction in English as comparable to that of native speakers
Provide primary language support when needed
A concept endorsed by most language acquisition theorists is Stephen Krashen’s comprehensible input hypothesis which suggests that learners acquire language by "intaking" and understanding language that is a "little beyond" their current level of competence (Krashen, 1981). For instance, a preschool child already understands the phrase "get your crayon." By slightly altering the phrase to "get my crayons," the teacher can provide an appropriate linguistic and cognitive challenge by offering new information that builds off prior learning and is therefore comprehensible. Providing consistent, comprehensible input requires a constant familiarity with the ability level of students in order to provide a level of "input" that is just beyond their current level.
Research by Swain & Lapkin (1995) has extended this concept to include "comprehensible output." According to several studies, providing learners with opportunities to use the language and skills they have acquired, at a level in which they are competent, is almost as important as giving students the appropriate level of input.
Another theory that has directly influenced classroom instruction is Jim Cummins’ (1996) distinction between two types of language: basic interpersonal communications skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP). Research has shown that the average student can develop conversational fluency within two to five years. Developing fluency in more technical, academic language can take from four to seven years depending on many variables such as language proficiency level, age and time of arrival at school, level of academic proficiency in the native language, and the degree of support for achieving academic proficiency (Cummins, 1996; Thomas & Collier, 1997).
Later, Cummins (1981) expanded this concept to include two distinct types of communication, depending on the context in which it occurs:
Context-embedded communication provides several communicative supports to the listener or reader, such as objects, gestures, or vocal inflections, which help make the information comprehensible. Examples are a one-to-one social conversation with physical gestures or storytelling activities that include visual props.
Context-reduced communication provides fewer communicative clues to support understanding. Examples are a phone conversation, which provides no visual clues, or a note left on a refrigerator.
Similarly, Cummins distinguished between the different cognitive demands that communication can place on the learner:
Cognitively undemanding communication requires a minimal amount of abstract or critical thinking. Examples are a conversation on the playground or simple yes/no questions in the classroom.
Cognitively demanding communication, which requires a learner to analyze and synthesize information quickly and contains abstract or specialized concepts. Examples are academic content lessons, such as a social studies lecture, a math lesson, or a multiple-choice test.
Understanding these theories can help teachers develop appropriate instructional strategies and assessments that guide students along a continuum of language development, from cognitively undemanding, context-embedded curricula, to cognitively demanding, context-reduced curricula. A basic knowledge of language acquisition theories is extremely useful for classroom teachers and directly influences their ability to provide appropriate content-area instruction to EL students. It is especially important in those schools or districts where limited resources result in little or no instructional support in a student’s native language. In these "sink-or-swim" situations, a committed mainstream teacher with a clear understanding of language acquisition can make all the difference.
Review of Laws Governing Instruction for ELs
It is important that educators understand the major state and federal policies affecting EL students. One of the most controversial policies affecting EL students in the State of California is Proposition 227, enacted in 1998, which limits access to bilingual education by requiring that EL students be taught “overwhelmingly” in English by the teaching personnel in a Structured English Immersion (SEI) or English Language Mainstream (ELM)classroom. State legislation leaves the interpretation of “overwhelmingly” to individual districts. Equally important to the education of EL students is the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (Jepsen & de Alth, 2005). In addition to its English proficiency goals, NCLB requires yearly improvements in academic achievement for EL students. Measurement of English leaner achievement is tracked through “Annual Measurable Objectives” (AMOs). The performance targets for English learners are equal to those set for all students. English learners with disabilities are expected to meet both the targets set for students in special education and English learners.