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Evaluating English Language Learners with Suspected Disabilities: A Guide
to Best Practices Research
The ultimate goal is to help you address the BIG referral question:
Is the academic underachievement attributable to a learning disability or to second language
acquisition difficulty? Or to poor instruction/educational programming?
The answer begins with:
The Legal Framework The Second Language Acquisition Process The Assessment Process
Why??IDEIA 2004 Findings indicate that:
In 2000, 1 of every 3 persons in the United States was a member of a minority group or was limited English proficient.
Minority children comprise an increasing percentage of public school students. Local education agencies (LEAs) reported that 77% of all LEP students have Spanish as their native language (Zehler et al., 2003a).
Studies have documented apparent discrepancies in the levels of referral and placement of limited English proficient children in special education.
Research Study: Wilkinson, Ortiz, Robertson-Courtney, Kushner
Participants: 70 out of 90 ELLs with reading-related LD in BSE classrooms in urban, central Texas school district
Identified 21 currently receiving services under the LD code
Student data reviewed by a panel of three experts; 1/PHD in School Psychology and 2/PHD in Special Education (avg. 19 yrs in BSE)
Panel did not agree with 9/21 cases; 6 were questionable. The panel questioned: the language dominance/proficiency assessment; pre-referral inadequacies; assessment language problems.
Terminology Limited English Proficient (LEP)
English language learner (ELL)
L1 native language; usually Spanish
L2 usually English
Code-switching/mixing: controlled blending of languages
Legal FrameworkFederal Definition of Specific Learning Disability:
(i) General. The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
(ii) Disorders not included. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
Legal Framework(A) In General. when determining whether a child has a specific
learning disability as defined in section 602 (Definitions), a local educational agency shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation or mathematical reasoning.
(B) Additional Authority.In determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, a local educational agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research- based intervention as a part of the evaluation procedures described in paragraphs (2) and (3) (Notice and Conduct).
Legal Framework The group may determine that the child has a
learning disability if: the child does not make sufficient progress to meet age
or State-approved grade-level standards despite the use of a process based on their response to scientific, research-based intervention; or
the child exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement or both relative to age, on State-approved grade-level standards or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability.
Oral Expression, Listening comprehension, Written Expression, Basic Reading Skill, Reading Fluency Skills (new category), Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Calculation, Mathematics Problem Solving (name change from Mathematics Reasoning)
Legal FrameworkA child shall not be determined to be a child with a disability if the determinant factor for such determination is:
1. Lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including in the essential components of reading instruction;
2. Lack of instruction in math; or
3. Limited English proficiency.
Legal FrameworkMust use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent, that may assist in determining
(i) whether the child is a child with a disability; and (ii) the content of the child's individualizededucation program, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum
Legal Framework(A) Are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis;
(B) Are provided and administered in the language and form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is not feasible to so provide or administer.
(C) Are used for purposes for which the assessments or measures are valid and reliable;
(D) Are administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and
(E) Are administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of such assessments.
The Second Language Acquisition Process
Language Dominance refers to language development.
Language Proficiency - provides a description of the individuals language development involving listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. Language proficiency levels govern the assessment process (Rhodes, Ochoa, & Ortiz, 2005)
The Second Language Acquisition Process
Common Underlying Proficiency: learned skills or concepts transfer from one language to another. ex. Literacy skills
Separate Underlying Proficiency: Language proficiency in one language is separate from another. Learned skills do not transfer.
Threshold Hypothesis: Successful second language learning is dependent upon the individual reaching the threshold level of native language ability.
L2 development is dependent upon L1 development.
BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills)
Language Proficiency BICS/CALPS
CALPS (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)
Stages of Second Language Acquisition
Preproduction: receptive skills better developed
Early Speech Production: yes/no questions Speech Emergence: wh questions Intermediate Fluency: appear fluent
Characteristics of Second Language Acquisition
Interference Silent Period Fossilization Code-Switching/Mixing Language Loss
Are school/district-wide supports available for ELLs? Type/duration of language programs?
Are community supports available? Are parents involved? Are systematic, consistent, data-driven instructional
interventions in place?
Research indicates that infidelity surrounds the pre-referral process (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez, 1997).
Referral committees push testing.
Focus on the classroom, not the testing process. What are the teachers credentials, skills, perspectives? Is
culturally-responsive, standards-based instruction/assessment taking place?
Are the students on-task and engaged? Is there meaningful opportunities to practice language
skills across multiple settings?
Formal/informal evaluation of L1/L2 language skills:
Receptive vocabulary skills
Expressive vocabulary skills
Oral communicative proficiency
Bilingual verbal ability
informal language assessments; story-telling/re-telling, language samples, observations, etc.
Evaluate acculturation of the student Compare to siblings/peers Family dynamics Prior educational experiences Ties to country of origin, if applicable View of host country/society Aspirations Motivations Age
Selection of assessment language Bilingual assessment vs. assessment of bilingual
individuals (MAMBI Rhodes, Ochoa, Ortiz, 2005)
Dual language cognitive/academic achievement assessment, if available. Nonverbal, if needed.
Cautiously interpret results Compare results to work samples, CBM Cultural/linguistic loading of assessment
Norm samples Translations
LOW MODERATE HIGH
SPATIAL RELATIONS (Gv-VZ,SR) VISUAL MATCHING (Gs-P,R9)NUMBERS REVERSED (Gsm-MW) CONCEPT FORMATION (Gf-I)
ANALYSIS SYNTHESIS (Gf-RG)AUDITORY WORKING MEMORY (Gsm-MW)
MPicture Recognition (Gv-MV)PLANNING (Gv-SS)PAIR CANCELLATION (Gs-R9)
VISUAL-AUDITORY LEARNING (Glr-MA)Delayed Recall Visual Auditory Learning (Glr-MA)RETRIEVAL FLUENCY (Glr-FI)RAPID PICTURE NAMING (Glr-NA)
MEMORY FOR WORDS (Gsm-MS)INCOMPLETE WORDS (Ga-PC)SOUND BLENDING (Ga-PC)AUDITORY ATTENTION (Ga-US/U3)DECISION SPEED (Gs-R4)
VERBAL COMPREHENSION (Gc-VL,LD)GENERAL KNOWLEDGE (Gc-K0)