Meeting the Needs of English Learners with Disabilities Written for

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(CTC The Administrator’s Assignment Manual Sept., 2007)

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Who can administer the CELDT?

Response: Only test examiners who are employees of the school district, are proficient in English (e.g., have complete command of pronunciation, intonation, and fluency, and can correctly pronounce a full range of American English phonemes), and have received training specifically designed to prepare them, may administer the CELDT (CDE California English Language Development Test: Reporting and Using Individual 2008-09 Results).
Question: What if the LEA does not administer the CELDT within 30 calendar days after a student enrolls for the first time in a California public school?

Response: LEAs engage in compliance program monitoring (CPM) reviews required by the CDE to ensure that they are following the California State Board Adopted Guidelines for Administering CELDT. Districts that do not adhere to federal regulations related to English learners may be at risk of losing their Title III funds.
Question: What are the requirements for administering the CELDT annually? Must it be given within the first 30 days of the school year?

Response: The annual testing window for LEAs to administer CELDT to English learners begins July 1 of each school year and ends October 31(CDE California English Language Development Test: Reporting and Using Individual 2008-09 Results).
Question: May a special education teacher provide English Language Development (ELD) services to EL students in their classroom or on their caseload?

Response: Yes. Under the current credentialing requirements, all special education teachers should have the appropriate certification (see column one on the CTC chart) to provide ELD services to students. It is not a requirement that the special education case manager or teacher provide the ELD services. This should be discussed at the student’s IEP.

Question: What if a student’s parents mark the Home Language Survey indicating that the student is an EL, but in fact the student is in an environment where both parents speak English and the native language fluently and the child may be fully bilingual? Is it still required for the student to take CELDT?

Response: Yes, the student should still take the CELDT test and be tested in their primary language. Now that students in kindergarten will be assessed with CELDT, this should not be as much of a concern as it was in the past.
Question: Are students who use American Sign Language (ASL) as their mode of communication required to take CELDT?

Response: For purposes of CELDT testing and identifying students who use ASL as English learners the following applies (per conversation with CDE English Language Learner Division, personal communication, April, 2010):

  1. Non‑English speaking parent, ASL student – CELDT testing required; student may be considered an EL student under IEP or 504 plan.

  2. English speaking parent, ASL student ‑ No CELDT testing required; student under IEP or 504 plan.

  3. ASL parent, hearing student ‑ No CELDT testing required, student may or may not be under IEP or 504 plan

  4. ASL parent, ASL student ‑ No CELDT testing required; student under IEP or 504 plan

    The directions in the R30 Language Census will clarify the information above. ASL is not listed as a language code for a primary language. For purposes of federal and state categorical funding, ASL is not considered as a primary language to be used in the designation of the student as an EL.

Section III

Pre Intervention For English Learners

Prior to Referrals to Special Education

Pre Intervention for English Learners (ELs)
Frequently, children from diverse language backgrounds fall behind in English academic environments and are inappropriately labeled as needing special education. What these students may really need is academic support and the opportunity to learn in an appropriate, culturally responsive environment. Meeting the instructional and second language development needs of students who are ELs in the general education setting is a critical first step in determining whether a student’s academic struggle is due primarily to a disability or to inadequate instruction (Gersten & Baker, 2000). Additionally, there is a lack of research-based instructional interventions specifically for students who are English learners (Figueroa 2005; Ortiz, et al. 2006; Klingner & Artiles, 2003).
Best Practices for Promoting Reading Literacy in English Learners
According to Gersten et al. (2007), there are five research-based practices for ensuring that English learners to be inappropriately identified for special education. Each of the five practices is rated as being strong or low based on the research-based evidence as a best practice. The five practices are included in the chart on the following page.


Level of Evidence

1) Conduct formative assessments with English learners using English language
These assessments should include measures of phonological processing, letter knowledge, and word and text reading. Use this data to identify English learners who require additional instructional support and monitor their reading progress over time.


2) Provide focused, intensive small-group interventions for English learners determined to be at risk for reading problems.
Although the amount of time in small-group instruction and the intensity of this instruction should reflect the degree of risk,

determined by reading assessment data and other indicators, the interventions should include the five core reading elements: phonological awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Explicit, direct instruction should be the primary means of instructional delivery.


3) Provide high-quality vocabulary instruction throughout the day. Teach essential content words in depth. In addition, use instructional time to address the meanings of common words, phrases, and expressions not yet learned.


4) Ensure that the development of formal or academic English is a key instructional goal for English learners, beginning in the primary grades. Provide curricula and supplemental curricula to accompany core reading and mathematics series to support this goal. Accompany with relevant training and professional development.


5) Ensure that teachers of English learners devote approximately 90 minutes a week to instructional activities in which pairs of students at different ability levels or different English language proficiencies work together on academic tasks in a structured fashion.
These activities should practice and extend material already taught.


Checklist for carrying out the recommendations:

1) Screen for reading problems and monitor progress

  • Districts should establish procedures for and provide training for schools to screen English learners for reading problems. The same measures and assessment approaches can be used with English learners and native English speakers.

  • Depending on resources, districts should consider collecting progress monitoring data more than three times a year for English learners at risk for reading problems. The severity of the problem should dictate how often progress is monitored—weekly or biweekly for students at high risk of reading problems.

  • Data from screening and progress monitoring assessments should be used to make decisions about the instructional support English learners need to learn to read. Schools with performance benchmarks in reading in the early grades can use the same standards for English learners and for native English speakers to make adjustments in instruction when progress is not sufficient. It is the opinion of Gersten et al. (2007) that schools should not consider below-grade level performance in reading as “normal” or something that will resolve itself when oral language proficiency in English improves. Provide training on how teachers are to use formative assessment data to guide instruction.

2) Provide intensive small-group reading interventions

  • Use an intervention program with students who enter the first grade with weak reading and prereading skills or with older elementary students with reading problems. Ensure that the program is implemented daily for at least 30 minutes in small, homogeneous groups of three to six students.

  • Provide training and ongoing support for the teachers via interventionists (i.e. reading coaches, Title I personnel, or paraeducators) who provide the small-group instruction. Training for teachers and other school personnel who provide the small-group interventions should also focus on how to deliver instruction effectively, independent of the particular program emphasized. It is important that this training include the use of the specific program materials the teachers will use during the school year. But the training should also explicitly emphasize that these instructional techniques can be used in other programs and across other subject areas.

3) Provide extensive and varied vocabulary instruction

  • Adopt an evidence-based approach to vocabulary instruction.

  • Develop district-wide lists of essential words for vocabulary instruction. These words should be drawn from the core reading program and from the textbooks used in key content areas, such as science and history.

  • Vocabulary instruction for English learners should also emphasize the acquisition of meanings of everyday words that native speakers know and that are not necessarily part of the academic curriculum.

4) Develop academic English

  • Adopt a plan that focuses on ways and means to help teachers understand that instruction to English learners must include time devoted to development of academic English. Daily academic English instruction should also be integrated into the core curriculum.

  • Teach academic English in the earliest grades.

  • Provide teachers with appropriate professional development to help them learn how to teach academic English.

  • Consider asking teachers to devote a specific block (or blocks) of time each day to building English learners’ academic English.

5) Schedule regular peer-assisted learning opportunities

  • Develop plans that encourage teachers to schedule about 90 minutes a week with activities in reading and language arts that entail students working in structured pair activities.

  • Also consider the use of partnering for English language development instruction

Response to Intervention (RtI) for English Learners
The National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD, 2006) defines RtI as: “…an assessment and intervention process for systematically monitoring student progress and making decisions about the need for instructional modifications of increasingly intensified services using progress monitoring data.”

RtI utilizes a problem-solving framework to identify and address academic and behavioral difficulties for all students, including English learners, using scientific, research-based instruction. Essentially, RtI is the practice of:

  • Providing high quality instruction. Intervention matched to all student’s needs and,

  • Using learning rate over time and level of performance to make important educational decisions to guide instruction (National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 2005).

RtI practices are proactive, incorporating both prevention and intervention for all levels from early childhood to high school.

On November 14, 2008, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction disseminated a document to schools across California indicating that the California Department of Education (CDE) recognizes Response to Intervention Squared (RtI2) as an effective strategy to support every student in California. This document further defines RtI 2’s instructional and intervention components. It defines RtI 2 as a general education approach of high quality instruction, early intervention, and prevention & behavioral strategies. Furthermore, it is a process that utilizes all resources within a school and a district in a collaborative manner to create a single, well-integrated system of instruction and interventions informed by student outcome data (O’Connell, 2008).

RtI emphasizes prevention and early intervention for all students, including English learners. It is premised on data-based decision-making for all learners

within the system. The essential elements of an effective RtI system should include the

following elements (M. Vanderwood, Ph. D., personal communication, October 2009)

  1. Universal Screening

  2. High Quality Differentiated or Multi-Tiered Instruction

  3. High Quality English Language Instruction

  4. Progress Monitoring

Universal Screening

All students, including EL students should be administered screening assessments at the beginning of the school year to determine individualized learning needs and allow for differentiated instruction. Outcome assessments from the previous year may also be used as screening tools or data to inform how to differentiate the instruction for EL students.

The purpose of conducting universal screening assessments is to provide initial information about how to differentiate instruction for EL students and whether some students may be at risk for difficulties in reading, writing or math. Screening assessments can also inform teachers whether or not an academic difficulty is due to a language difference or a learning problem.
Screening approaches or instruments should meet three criteria. First, a good screening tool accurately classifies students as at risk or not at risk for reading failure. Second, the procedure must not be too costly, time-consuming, and cumbersome to implement. Good screens can be administered, scored, and interpreted quickly and accurately. Third, the net effect for students must be positive (Shinn, 1989). This means students identified as at risk for failure must receive timely and effective intervention, and no students or groups should be shortchanged.
Because it is user-friendly, the DIBELS assessment system is a frequent choice for a screening and progress-monitoring tool for RtI. Unfortunately, sensitivity and specificity levels for DIBELS are far from the ideal of 90% and 80%, respectively, for predicting reading outcomes measured by standardized tests (Jenkins, 2007; M. Vanderwood, Ph. D., personal communication, October 2009).

It is recommended that educators rank order students based on their critical benchmark performances (as indicated by the universal screening conducted) by three categories (M. Vanderwood, Ph. D., personal communication, October 2009).

  1. High Risk

  2. Moderate Risk

  3. At or Above Grade Level

Students in the “high risk” category would need significant or “strategic” intervention. This should be supplemental instruction.

Students in the “moderate risk” category would need “moderate support - in class modifications.” This should be supplemental instruction.
Students who are functioning at or above grade level do not need supplemental instruction but need regular class instruction (core).
High-quality Multi-Tiered Instruction

Research has demonstrated that most reading problems can be prevented by providing high-quality core classroom reading instruction in the early grades, along with supplemental intervention for students who need it (Denton et al., 2007).

Brain imaging research has demonstrated that the way the brain processes information is different in typically developing readers than in those at risk for experiencing reading difficulties; however, these processing patterns in the brains of struggling readers—even those with severe dyslexia—can actually change in a period of a few weeks when they are provided with concentrated, powerful reading instruction (Denton et al., 2007).
Tier 1. What does high quality core reading instruction at Tier 1 usually look like? The overriding research-supported characteristics of high quality reading instruction can be summarized as follows:

  1. Teach essential skills and strategies.

  2. Provide differentiated instruction based on assessment results and adapt instruction to meet students' needs.

  3. Provide explicit and systematic instruction with lots of practice with and without teacher support and feedback, and including cumulative practice over time.

  4. Provide opportunities to apply skills and strategies in reading and writing meaningful text with teacher support.

  5. Don't just "cover" critical content; be sure students learn it; monitor student progress regularly and reteach as necessary.

As schools adopt and begin to make use of programs and approaches that are supported by scientific reading research, it is important that teachers receive the training and support they need to implement these programs well. They should also receive appropriate training on how to address the learning of ELs. There is no silver bullet—the problems of struggling readers are not solved by simply adopting a particular program. What teachers emphasize from these programs and how they deliver instruction matters a great deal. In addition, for ELs, in order for instruction to be “effective,” the assessment as well as instruction must be both linguistically and culturally appropriate. The teacher who teaches ELs must know their levels of language proficiency in their first language (L1) and second language (L2) when planning assessment and instruction, and provide culturally relevant curricula that reflect the background and experiences of the students (Brown & Doolittle, 2008). When an EL student becomes a focus of concern, the instructional program itself must be examined to determine the match between the demands of the curriculum and the child’s current level of proficiency in the language of instruction. It is important to examine the achievement of the student’s “true peers” (similar language proficiencies, culture and experiential background) to see if they are making adequate academic progress. If several other “true peers” are struggling, this is an indication that the instruction may be a mismatch for the student of concern (Brown & Doolittle, 2008). If the student does not make appropriate progress after providing instructional modifications such as re-teaching, smaller groupings in the general education classroom, or, if deemed appropriate, receives some instruction in a his/her L1, it may be recommended that he/she receive Tier II support.

Tier 2. Reading instruction at this level usually includes supplemental instruction/intervention to the core reading instruction that is intensive in nature. Researchers in the field recommend that, in addition to the core curriculum, reading intervention at this level should be provided a minimum of thirty minutes to one hour daily (M. Vanderwood, Ph. D., personal communication, October 2009).
Also, intervention should be delivered by a specialist or highly skilled individual at this level. Tier II interventions are supplemental to the general education curriculum. “In other words, students should receive a “double dose” of instruction targeted at specific goals based on students’ needs” (Brown & Doolittle, 2008).

High quality intervention is defined as instruction or intervention matched to student need that has been demonstrated through scientific research and practice to produce high learning rates for most students. Individual responses to even the best instruction/intervention are variable. Selection and implementation of scientifically based instruction/intervention markedly increases the probability of, but does not guarantee, positive individual response. Therefore, individual response is assessed in RtI and modifications to instruction/intervention or goals are made depending on results with individual students (Batsche et al., 2005).

Go to to view reading programs that scientific research indicates are associated with high rates of learning to read.
Tier 3. Intervention at this level is provided as supplemental instruction above and beyond and in addition to the core curriculum. In some systems, Tier 3 may actually be identification for special education. In other systems, this is the most intensive level of support provided to students outside of identification for special education. This level of intervention often differs from Tier 2 in the intensity defined as the amount of time the intervention is provided and the ratio of students to the instructor.

RtI models vary in their conceptualization of Tier 3. In some models, Tier 3 would be considered special education and students who progressed to this tier would automatically qualify for special education services. In other models, children would be provided intensive and individual interventions at this tier while concurrently undergoing an assessment for special education eligibility. Service providers at this level should work in close collaboration with English learner specialists (Brown & Doolittle, 2008).

Researchers in the field recommend that intervention at this level be provided a minimum of one or more hours daily in a student to instructor ratio that does not exceed 4:1 (Founders of ExCEL RtI program, personal communication, April 2006; M. Vanderwood. Ph. D., personal communication, October 2009).

Progress Monitoring

Ongoing assessments should be conducted frequently to monitor the progress EL students are making toward reaching or exceeding grade level standards.

It is recommended that benchmark assessments should be administered at least three times a year, but more frequently depending on student progress and needs.

For students experiencing reading difficulties, assessments should be administered weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, depending on the severity of the problem.

Curriculum-embedded assessments are typically administered every 6–8 weeks, but more frequently depending on the curriculum and student needs. (M. Vanderwood, Ph. D., personal communication, October 2009).
The Role of Student Study Teams in the Pre Referral Process
Many districts utilize existing teams of professionals such as

Student Study Teams (SST) to monitor and track students as part of the RtI process. SST is a formal process by which a team of education professionals consult on the strengths and weaknesses of an individual child to help improve the child’s academic skills. The role of the SST or other school/district designated team is to track and analyze student progress, as well as to make student referrals to higher level interventions or special education.

It has been documented in the research that it is important for SST or other multi-disciplinary teams to have in-depth knowledge about second language acquisition (Brown & Doolittle 2008). Brown and Doolittle (2008) indicate that the use of RtI without a foundation in culturally and linguistically appropriate instruction may lead to greater disproportionality. They also found that most teachers lack the training, expertise, and experience in teaching reading and other subjects to ELs. They feel it is essential to address teacher-related and school-related issues as well as child traits such as being a second language learner. Further, they feel all educators should be knowledgeable in first and second language acquisition principles and culturally responsive methodology, as well as consult with specialists who are trained in differentiating cultural and linguistic differences from disabilities.

Brown & Doolittle (2008) propose the following framework for multi-disciplinary teams to follow when determining the needs of English learners who may be struggling:

  1. A systematic process for examining the specific background variables or ecologies of ELs (i.e., first and second language proficiency, educational history including bilingual models, immigration pattern, socioeconomic status, and culture) that impact academic achievement in a U.S. classroom;

  2. Examination of the appropriateness of classroom instruction and the classroom context based on knowledge of individual student factors;

  3. Information gathered through informal and formal assessments; and,

  4. Nondiscriminatory interpretation of all assessment data.

RtI research indicates there are two treatment models: a standard treatment protocol model and a problem-solving model, though in reality, most school districts use a combination of the two (Batsche et al., 2005).

Some initial RtI related activities that may occur during the SST process for English learners are:

  • The parent, teacher and/or EL staff, as well as other RtI staff members should attend and participate in the meeting.

  • Background information should be reviewed and completed with the parent.

  • Review of concerns regarding academic or language acquisition, behavioral, social or emotional progress should take place.

  • Specific areas of need should be determined (identify the problem)

  • Needed interventions should be established.

  • A progress monitoring schedule and who will be responsible for conducting probes should be determined, as well as the frequency of probes should be determined.

  • All information should be recorded.

Follow-up RtI or SST meetings should occur. Some of the activities that may occur during these subsequent SST meetings are:

  • The parent, teacher and/or EL staff, as well as other RtI staff members should attend the meeting.

  • The data collected during the last interval should be reviewed (typically no more than 12 week intervals).

  • The team should determine if the student is making progress toward expected targets.

  • The team should decide whether to or not the interventions should be continued and should select new interventions (if student is not responding to the current interventions).

  • The team should determine a schedule for monitoring progress and who will be responsible for conducting probes (this must occur at least two times weekly).

  • All information should be recorded.

Follow-up RtI meetings are not recommended prior to 24 weeks of RtI intervention where the team may be considering a referral to special education. It is recommended that the School Psychologist, and possibly other special education staff members as appropriate, be invited to the SST meeting (Murray County Schools, 2008).

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