Special Education Evaluation of English Language Learners (ELLs)- The Importance of Language Proficiency Determination-1

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  • Huong Tran Nguyen 127

    Volume 21, Number 1, Spring 2012

    General Education and Special Education TeachersCollaborate to Support English Language Learners

    with Learning Disabilities

    Huong Tran NguyenCalifornia State University, Long Beach

    Issues in Teacher Education, Spring 2012

    Introduction

    TheCensus2000Brief(U.S.DepartmentofCommerce,2004b)in-dicatesthatEnglishisnottheheritagelanguageofapproximatelyoneinfiveAmericans,andthenumberoflimitedEnglishproficient(LEP)students,alsoknownasEnglishlanguagelearners(ELLs),grewabout50percentinthelastdecade.Itisestimatedthatnearly400,000ELLstudentsingradesK-12wereidentifiedasneedingspecialeducationservicesintheschoolyear2001-2002(McCardle,McCarthy-Mele,Cut-ting,Leos,&DEmilio(2005).Paradoxically,thereisanover-representa-tion,andalsoanunder-representation,ofstudentsinspecialeducationprograms(Artiles&Ortiz,2002;Klingneretal.,2006;IndividualsWithDisabilitiesEducationActAmendments,1997).MoreresearchneedstobeconductedtodecipherwhetherELLsstruggletodevelopliteracybecause of their limited English proficiency or because they have alearning disability (Klingner, et al., 2006). Not surprisingly, generaleducation(GE)teachershesitatetoreferstudentstospecialeducationbecausetheyareunsureifthechallengestheseELLsfacerelatetoasecond languageacquisitionora learningdisability (LD) issue (U.S.DepartmentofEducation,USDOE,&NationalInstituteofHealthand

    Huong Tran Nguyen is an associate professor in the College of Educa-tion at California State University, Long Beach. Her email address is hnguye10@csulb.edu

    Innovative Practices

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    HumanDevelopment,NICHD,2003).AccordingtoArtiles,Rueda,Salazar,andHigareda(2005),thepatternofover-representationofstudentsinspecialeducationprogramsoftenoccurindistrictswithasizableELLpopulation, especiallyamongolder studentswith limitedproficiencyinboththeirfirstlanguageandEnglish.Itisnotknownhowdistrictsdetermineplacementofstudentsintheseprograms;theirdecisionmaybebasedonstudentslackofproficiencyinthefirstlanguage,familypov-erty,assessmentprocedures,orreferralbias(Artiles&Klingner,2006).Hence,thetaskofidentifyingELLsforeligibilityinspecialeducationbecomescomplexforeducatorswhomuststillcarryitoutthistaskintheirlocalcontexts.WhoareELLs?WhoareELLswithLD?WhoareGEteachersofthesestudents?Whattypeofprofessionaldevelopmentdoallteachersneedtoworkwithallstudents?

    Methodology

    ThisarticleisnotareviewofallempiricalresearchaboutELLsandELLswithLDwhoexperienceavarietyofreadingdifficultiesorasynthe-sisofallavailablestudiesbasedonthisbroadspectrum.Itisbeyondthescaleofthisarticletoaddresseverysinglerange,type,andseverity(mild,moderate,severe),andscope(intensity,duration,frequency)oflearningdisabilitiesacrossthedisciplines(e.g.,math,science,socialstudies,Englishcomposition).Rather,theauthoracknowledgesthat,whileresearchershaveyettoassertwithconfidencethatthedifficultiesELLsfaceinschoolareattributedtoalanguageacquisitionissue,alearningdisability,orboth,allteachersareexpectedtoaddressthecomplexneedsofstudentsundertheircare.ThisarticlesuggestscollaborationbetweenGEandspecialeducation(SE)teachers,otherspecialists (ESL/ELD,speech,reading),and/orstafftoworktogethertodesignappropriatelearningexperiencesforELLsandELLswithLD.Theauthoralsosuggestsresearch-basedmethodsandstrategiesthatallteacherscanuseintheleastrestrictiveenvironment(LRE)toprovideshelteredinstructionwithinthecontextofculturallyresponsivepedagogy. InorderforteacherstoprovideshelteredinstructiontoELLstudents,theymusthaveknowledgeofthesestudentsEnglishproficiencylevels,asdeterminedbytheCaliforniaEnglishLanguageDevelopmentTestorCEDLT(beginning,earlyintermediate,intermediate,earlyadvanced,ad-vanced),toplanrelevantactivitiesandposelanguageappropriatequestions.ResultsfromtheCELDTtestalsoinformaschoolastotheappropriateclassinwhichthestudentmustbeplaced.TheclassesrangefromELDI(beginning),ELDII(earlyintermediate),ELDIII(intermediate),toacontent-specificSheltered Instruction orSpecially Designed Academic

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    Instruction in English or SDAIE class (seeCaliforniaDepartment ofEducation,EnglishLanguageDevelopmentStandards,K-12,2002). Withregardtoculturallyrelevantpedagogy,teachersmayconsiderenrichingtheircurriculumbyselectingliteraturewrittenbyauthorswhosediversebackgroundsandlivedexperiencesmaymirrorthoseoftheirstudents,inadditiontotheschool-adoptedmaterialthatteach-ersareexpectedtoteach.Inselectingauthorswhorepresentmultipleperspectivesandliteraturefromdifferentgenres,teachersacknowledgethattheculturalheritagesofethnicgroupsarelegitimateandworthycontenttointegrateintheschoolsofficialcurriculum(Gay,2000).Whenteachersaffirmstudentsidentityandknowledge,theybuildhome-schoolbridgeslinkingacademicabstractionstostudentslivedsocio-culturalrealities(Gay,p.29). Intermsofmethodology,theauthorconductedcomputersearchesofdatabasesbytopic(Education)usingAcademicSearchCompleteandPsycInfotodetermineappropriatedescriptorsforELLs.Manytermshavebeenusedtorefertothispopulation.Forexample,U.S.governmentfederalandstateagenciescontinuetousethetermlimited English pro-ficient(LEP)orlanguage minority studentsintheirofficialdocumentswhileEnglish language learners (ELLs)orEnglish learners (ELs)aregenerallyadoptedinthecurrentresearchliteratureandbypractitioners.Theauthorusedsetsofdescriptorsforsearches,whichincluded:Englishlanguagelearnersandlearningdisabilities,learningdisabilitiesandEnglishlearner,limitedEnglishproficientandlearningdisability,andEnglishlearnerandlearningdisabilities.Theauthoralsoexaminedlistsofcitationsfromrelevantstudiestoconsiderarticlesorbookchapterscitedforinclusioninthereviewofliterature.Finally,theauthorconsultedwithresearcherswhohavepublishedarticlesorbooksonELLs,ELLswithLD,andwithteachereducatorsinSEfortheirindividualandcollectiveinsights.WhoareELLs?WhoareELLswithLD?WhataresomeofthechallengesthesestudentsfaceintheGEclasses?

    Background

    English Language Learners IntheirreporttotheNationalClearinghouseforEnglishLanguageAcquisition,Ballantyne,Sanderman,andLevy(2008)notedthatthereareoverfivemillionstudentslimitedinEnglishintheU.S.,a57%increaseoverthepast10years.Nearlysixin10oftheseELLsarerecipientsoffreeorreducedpricelunch,whichindicatesthattheirfamiliesarefromloweconomicstatusbackgrounds.Itissafetosaythatallteacherswill,atsomepointintheircareers,haveatleastoneELLundertheir

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    tutelage.DoELLs represent a homogeneous group?Not so. In fact,ELLsareheterogeneousinrace,ethnicity,nationality,socio-economicbackground,immigrationstatus,generationintheU.S.,proficiencyintheirnativelanguage(orL1)andinEnglish(orL2),andtheirparentslevelofeducation(August&Shanahan,2006;Wright,2010).

    English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities Inthere-authorizationoftheIndividualswithDisabilitiesEduca-tionAct(2004),alearningdisabilityisdefinedas:

    Adisorderinoneormoreofthebasicpsychologicalprocessesinvolvedin under-standing or in using language, spoken or written, whichdisordermaymanifestitselfintheimperfectabilitytolisten,speak,read,write,spell,ordomathematicalcalculations.(ascitedinGarcia&Tyler,2010,p.115)

    Approximately50%ofallstudents,rangingfrom16to21inage,receive SE services under the LD category; half of themhave dis-abilitiesrelatedtospeech-languageimpairment(U.S.DOE&NICHD,2003).Nearly 80% of this heterogeneous group experience readingdifficulties(Artiles&Klingner,2006;Garcia&Tyler,2010).However,exactnumbersofELLswithLDareunknownbecausemanydistrictsacrosstheU.S.donotclassifythesestudentsasadistinctsubgroup.Educators have difficulty distinguishing language differences fromdisabilitywhenexplainingtheacademicstrugglesthesestudentsen-counter,andschoolofficialsreportlackingtools,procedures,orquali-fiedstafftoadequatelyidentifythesestudentsandtheirneeds(U.S.DOE,OfficeofEnglishLanguageAcquisition,2003;Zehler,etal.,2003).Echevarria,Vogt,andShort(2008),forexample,offeredanexplana-tionfordistinguishinglanguagedifferencesfromlanguagelearningdisabilities.Forstudentswithlanguagedifferences(e.g.,ELLs),theirlanguageperformancemaynotbecomparabletothatoftheirpeers;theymaylackculturalandlinguisticexperiences,limitedvocabularyfromlittleexposuretohearingandusingEnglish,andfewEnglishrolemodels(Olsen,2010).Whencommunicating,theseELLsshiftfromonelanguagetoanotherwithinanutterance;anaccentordialectmaybetheimpediment.Theirnon-verbalskills(gestures,facialexpressions,physicalproximity),however,areageappropriate.Studentswithlan-guagelearningdisabilities(ELLswithLD),however,haveauniquelanguagepatternwhichisunlikeothersintheirculturalcommunity.Theyhavelimitedvocabulary(evenintheirnativetongue),strugglewithfindingwordsandusesubstituteonesinanotherlanguage.Theyexhibitdeficitsinexpressiveandreceptivelanguage,anddemonstrate

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    difficultywithinterpretingnon-verballanguage,whichcanoftenleadtosocialproblems(Echevarriaetal.,2008,p.195). DatafromtheNationalClearinghouseforEnglishLanguageAc-quisition(2008)indicatethatteacherswhoworkwithELLsarethosewhospecializeinteachingstudentswhoarenotyetfullyproficientinEnglishteacherswithcertificationsinEnglishforSpeakersofOtherLanguages(ESOL),EnglishasaSecondLanguage(ESL),orbilingualeducation(p.3).ThisdefinitionencompassesahostofteachersresponsiblefortheeducationofELLs(someofwhomhaveadiagnosed/undiagnosedLD),butpersonnelassignmentsmayvaryfromdistricttodistrict,statetostate.Intermsofqualifications,only29.5%ofU.S.teacherswithELLsintheirclassesarepreparedtoworkwiththesestudents.Only20states(e.g.,Arizona,California,Florida,NewYork) require thatall teachershavetrainingtoworkwithELLs;only26%ofteachershavebenefitedfromELL-relatedprofessionaldevelopment(PD)programs,57%believetheyneedadditionaltrainingtoteachELLseffectively.ThistypeofPDrequiresthatteachersreceivespecializedtraininginordertobeeffectivewithstrugglinglearnerswhotendtohavelessqualifiedteachers,limitedresources,fewopportunitiesforintellectuallychallengingcurricula,andplacedincrowdedclassrooms(Darling-Hammond,2004,2006).Whatdoteachersneedtoknowandbeabletodotoprovidetheirstudentswithlanguageanddevelopmentallyappropriatelearningexperiences?Trainingforallpre-serviceandin-serviceteachershaslaggedbehindtherealitiesoftheclassroomintheU.S.giventherapidincreaseofELLswithLD.

    Teacher Preparation TheNo Child Left Behind(NCLB)legislationhasplacedgreaterfocusonallteacherstoaddresstheneedsofallstudentsintheirclassrooms.Schooldistrictsacross theU.S.mustensure that in-service teachersareableandreadytoworkwithallstudents.Schoolsofeducationmustalsoshoulderpartoftheresponsibilityforpreparingtheirpre-serviceteachersfortherealitiesoftodaysurbanclassroomsto:

    understanddeeplyawidearrayofthingsaboutlearning,socialandculturalcontexts,andteachingandbeabletoenacttheseunderstand-ingsincomplexclassroomsservingincreasinglydiversestudents;inaddition,ifprospectiveteachersaretosucceedatthistask,schoolsofeducationmustdesignprogramsthattransformthekindsofsettingsinwhichnoviceslearnandlaterbecometeachers.(Darling-Hammond,2006,p.302)

    Totransformthetypesofsettingsinwhichpre-serviceteacherslearn,teachereducatorsneedtoprovidecandidateswithopportunitiestocol-laboratewithpeers(e.g.,intra-andinter-disciplinaryprojects,multi-

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    mediapresentations,leadingdiscussionsoftextbookchaptersorarticles,communityserviceprojects).Additionally,courseworkmustbelinkedtofield-basedexperiencestohelpcandidatesconnecttheoreticalknowledgetheyhadlearnedintheircollegecoursestopracticalapplicationstheywouldbeobservinginrealclassrooms,implementedbyrealteacherswithrealstudents,includingthosewithdisabilities. Classroommanagementisoneofthedomainsthatcandidatesandbeginningteachersoftenreportfeelingunder-prepared.AneffectivetooltoaddressthistopicisaPBS-producedworkshopforparentsandteach-ersofstudentswithLDcalledHowDifficultCanItbe?TheFAT(Fear,Anxiety,Tension)CityWorskhop.ThisproductionwaspresentedbyRich-ardLavoie,anationally-knownexpertonLDwhohasworkedinspecialeducationsince1972asateacher,administrator,author,consultant,andownerofEagleHillSchool (aresidentialschool foryoungadolescentswithLD).OneofthestrategiesLavoiesuggestedisforteacherstoadoptpreventiveratherthancorrectivediscipline,andbepro-activeinsteadofreactive inaddressingbehavioral issueswiththisstudentpopulation.Another technique Lavoie recommended is for teachers to follow thesameroutines,usefamiliarprocedures,andlisttheagendaforthedayontheboardtoprovideELLswithLDwithexternalpredictabilityandreducetheanxietyfactorbecausethesestudentsareenvironmentallydependentandpossess little internal structure. Incidentally,LavoiesrecommendationhasalsobeenfoundtobeaneffectiveapproachforusewithstudentswhoareintheprocessofacquiringEnglish(Echevarria&Graves,2007;Echevarria,Vogt,&Short,2008). When candidates have a chance to observe teachers implementstrategiessuchastheabove,theyarebetterabletoconnecttheoreticalknowledgeofmanagementtheoriestheyhadbeenexposedtointheircol-legecoursestopracticalapplicationsintheclassroom.Finally,toinspireprospectiveteacherstosustainthepursuitofprofessionalgrowthandbecomefuturecollaborators,theyneedtobeobservingtheirownprofes-sorsincollaborativerolessuchas,conductingaresearchprojectwithcol-leaguesorwithothers,teamteachingaco-plannedcourse,participatinginagrant,co-presentingasessionataconference,orfulfillingserviceattheuniversity,college,department,community,orschoolsitelevels.

    From Pre-Service to In-service Teaching Generally,candidatesenrolled intraditionalprogramsmustsuc-cessfully fulfill their student teachingpracticumormini-apprentice-ship(Lortie,1975)towardtheendoftheirprogrambeforetheymaybeconsideredforemployment.Thetransitionsfromcollegestudenttostudentteachertoin-serviceteacherrequiresomeadjustmentformost

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    prospectiveteachers;collaborativesupportfrommoreexperiencedcol-leaguesthroughoutthelearningprocessensuressuccessfuladvancementinto theworkplace (Nguyen,2009).All teachers (GE,SE, specialistssuchasspeech,reading,ESL/ELD)noviceorseasonedcanbenefitfromongoingprofessionaldevelopmenttrainingtocontinuallyreassesswhetherornottheirskillsarethemosteffectivemethodstomaximizetheirstudentssuccess.GEteachersneedtobeableto:(1)identifytheabilitiesofstudentswithdisabilities;(2)understandhowthesestudentsqualify(ornot)forSEservices;(3)appropriatelyfacilitatethestudentsmeetingthelearningobjectivesbasedontheirIndividualizedEducationProgram(IEP);and(4)knowwhattypeofsupporttheycanreasonablyexpectfromSEteachers(andotherspecialists,ifavailable).Conversely,SEteachers(andotherspecialists)mustalsobecognizantofthedailyworkofGEteachers to instructallstudentswhile jugglingmultipleequallydemandingduties.SuchknowledgehelpsSEteachersbetterassist theirGEcolleagues inprovidingappropriateaccommodationsforstudentswithdisabilities intheLRE.Throughcarefully-plannedprofessionaldevelopment(PD),GE,SE,andotherstaffcanexchangeideas,andsuppor...

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