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English Language Learners with Disabilities: A Call for Additional Research and Policy Guidelines

Author(s)Soyoung Park, Joni Magee, Martha I. Martinez, Lynn Shafer Willner, Jen Paul
Publication dateAugust 2016
publication pdfEnglish Language Learners with Disabilities: A Call for Additional Research and Policy Guidelines

An increasing number of American educators are faced with a compelling need to appropriately instruct and assess the English language learners (ELLs) in their classrooms. The number of students dually identified for both special education and English language learner services has also been increasing at a steady pace. Previous research clearly identifies an ongoing systematic problem of misidentification among ELLs receiving special education services. However, the literature is remarkably silent on empirical solutions for remedying this problem. Furthermore, little is known about how to best design and implement Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to support ELLs with disabilities, as well as how to reclassify ELLs with disabilities as English Proficient in a timely manner. While current research does not provide adequate information for practitioners working with students dually identified for special education and ELL services, educators are further stymied by the lack of detailed policy guidance. Teachers, administrators, and specialists at the district level need clearer regulatory frameworks on how to support ELLs in order to 1) avoid misidentification of eligibility for special education services, 2) advance the academic achievement of ELLs receiving special education services, and 3) ensure timely and appropriate exit from English language education programs and if and when appropriate from special education services.

This paper, developed by members of the ELL State Collaboratives on Assessment and Student Standards (SCASS), addresses each of these areas of need, providing a brief review of relevant research, as well as recommendations for additional policy and/or research. This document is primarily intended for 1) states, who we recommend identify, monitor, and research promising practices related to ELLs with disabilities, as well as develop guidance that can be included in federal policies; 2) the United States Department of Education, which can fund research in the following areas - initial identification, instruction and services, and exit from ELL and special education services. We suggest that states and the U.S. DOE collaborate on these efforts to facilitate effective practices and consistent policies for ELLs with disabilities in all states. 

Contact:Adam Petermannadam.petermann@ccsso.org202-336-7076