Posted on 02/21/2011 at 08:40 AM by Global Reach

Determining the difference between normal second language acquisition and an academic disability is a difficult task due to the many similarities the two situations possess. ELL students often “look like” students who have a disability due to the impact of second language learning on their academic skills. Making a determination between the two is a daunting task that special education strategists and general education coaches are being asked to make on a daily basis. Following are ten Best Practice suggestions that may make that decision somewhat easier.

1.    Determine the language acquisition status of the ELL student.  Is the student at the Beginning Level of English language acquisition or are they Intermediate to Advanced?  Language acquisition status impacts the student’s ability to process English language and to complete academic activities.  Keep in mind that it takes seven to ten years to master the academic language used in content area materials.

2.    Complete all pre-referral and intervention activities regarding the student.  Use the ICEL and RIOT forms to gather information on the student, classroom, and teaching methods.  Gather an accurate family, educational, and language history.  Talk to and interview the parents prior to determining the need for evaluation for special education. 
Intervention activities need to be based on the skills the ELL student needs to make progress.  For example, if a student needs to increase vocabulary then the intervention needs to address vocabulary.  A possible reading intervention for this situation could be to teach the word vocabulary meaning, have the ELL student read the word in context, and then have the student write the word in a sentence/paragraph.

3.    Choose evaluation instruments very carefully, making sure they are not verbally loaded for English.  Most standardized tests are tests of English when given to ELLs.  Also, keep in mind that the tests that are available in the student’s first language may not be appropriate because the student never received academic instruction in the first language.

4.    Use non-traditional assessment approaches for evaluation (test-teach-retest, structured observations, progress monitoring, information provided by scientifically based interventions, rubrics, task and work sample analysis, checklists and inventories, etc.).

5.    Compare the ELL student to other ELLs in the same grade and at the same level of English acquisition.  This is vital!!  This is the student’s academic peer group and the group the student should be discrepant from if there is truly a disability. 

6.    Use progress monitoring techniques over a period of time to track a student’s academic progress.  The best practice recommendation for the length of interventions is one to two semesters.

7.    Use only interpreters approved for special education services.  The special education process and education, in general, have a very specific vocabulary and the interpreter must be familiar with and comfortable using “educationalese” in both languages.

8.    Intellectual ability scores are typically neither reliable nor valid.  Intellectual ability tests are basically tests of English, particularly when they contain verbal content.

9.    Keep in mind that nearly every ELL student who could be evaluated is most likely below grade level (some by as much as two years) and would demonstrate a significant discrepancy between cognitive abilities and academic achievement when the typical methods of assessment are used (e.g. IQ tests, academic tests, tests in English only, comparison to all students and not the ELL peer group).  This does not necessarily indicate that the student has a disability.

10.    A disability must be determined to exist in the first language for the student to be considered for special education eligibility.

Comments
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