Profiles of English language learners who received reading-related learning disability services
Researchers have examined the validity of IQ-achievement discrepancy formulae and of referral, assessment, and diagnostic procedures for English language learners (ELLs; Collier & Hoover, 1987; Johnson et al., n.d.; McCardle et al., 2005; Ochoa et al., 1983; Ortiz, 2001; Palmer et al., 1989; Rodriguez & Carrasquillo, 1997; Wagner et al., 2005; Zavala & Mims, 1983). Findings suggest that linguistic and cultural biases in assessments contribute to misdiagnoses, and thus to disproportionate representation of ELLs in special education (Collier & Hoover, 1987; Gerber & Durgunoglu, 2004; Johnson et al., n.d.; McCardle et al., 2005a; Ortiz, 1997; Palmer et al., 1989; Rodriguez & Carrasquillo, 1997). This descriptive study examined the characteristics of ELLs when they initially entered special education as three, four, and five year olds and then when they were identified as having learning disabilities. In addition, students’ educational histories were traced from initial entry to their identification as having earning disabilities to describe the paths that led to their LD classification. Findings revealed that while all students received reading-related instruction in a bilingual special education classroom, only 9 of the 19 students met criteria for reading-related disabilities. Five students had learning disabilities in math and/or written expression, while another five was never identified with a learning disability, but received instruction in a bilingual special education resource room. Further analyses revealed concerns relating to the district's identification and placement processes: (a) use of inappropriate assessment procedures and instruments, (b) questionable eligibility determinations, (c) lack of consideration for factors (other than reading-related) that may contribute to the assessment results (e.g., head trauma and student having been in the country less than a year before being assessed), and (d) special education placements based on traditional practice rather than individual needs. The results of this study will help educators better understand existing practices in special education policy on referral, assessment, and eligibility determinations involving young ELLs. Policy and research recommendations to improve existing practices in these areas are given.