English Language Learners with Disabilities
There is a growing number of English language learners (ELLs) in Maine’s schools. For example, I recently learned that Westbrook has experienced an increase of over 200% of students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, in just the past year. Portland and Lewiston are also known for their services to high populations of ELLs. And, of course, schools in communities across the state are working to meet the needs of newcomers from all regions of the world.
While a good deal of research is available on best practices for teaching ELLs in the content areas (with more needed and being conducted), less has been produced for ELLs with disabilities. This is an area of need. For ELLs who are academically underachieving, it is often difficult to determine the cause. In some cases, students are prematurely placed in special education. This can be the result of the absence of best practices for teaching ELLs. In some other cases, the cause of failure for an ELL is mis-identified as language acquisition difficulty. That is, in the latter case, the student actually has a strong grasp of English, but a disability (e.g., a specific learning disability) is going undetected.
What if the delivery of instruction (both classroom and ESL) is appropriate and grounded in best practices for ELLs, and yet the student is still experiencing difficulties in meeting learning objectives? What is the best process for determining that a pre-referral for special education is appropriate? And for ELLs who receive special education services, what are the indicators of an effective implementation plan for supporting the student’s IEP goals while at the same time ensuring that progress is being made with ESL programming?
These are important questions that are being considered nationally and here in Maine. This morning I found a synthesis of research on ELLs with disabilities that I thought I’d share (see link below “ells_disabilities). It’s a 2004 report, but it’s written in a usable form for educators who are looking for a summary of best practices, as well as the issues related to the complexity of teaching ELLs with disabilities. It’s titled, “Synthesis Brief: English Language Learners with Disabilities” and was prepared by Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE)