Tracie Allen of the comedy team of Burns and Allen was once asked how one should speak French. She replied, “Well, you speak it the same way you speak English; you just use different words. ” When trying to assist in instructing English language learners, they usually have many concepts and language abilities that they need to master, as do the teachers that are trying to teach them.
With the incorporation of the concepts and approaches to identify and assess the issues and concerns that we have learned in our classroom instruction, such as lesson preparation, building background, and comprehensible input, we can indeed teach our future English language learners all the right moves with all the right words. One of the first challenges that ELL instructors must come to terms with is the identification and assessment of their students’ learning capabilities in their classroom.
Traditional identification instruments designed for English speakers may not be valid with English language learners. Identification of English language learners with special needs should include consideration of several factors, such as family history, developmental and health history, first language and literacy development, previous schooling, and the learners’ current academic ability, just to name a few. Learning in any language is affected by learning disabilities, but second language learners with special needs present additional educational challenges.
According to the British Columbia Ministry of Education, Skills, and Training (Fowler & Hooper, 1998), instructors of English language learners with special needs should consider the cultural, developmental, and first language background of the learner. They should also do the following: (1. ) Provide a highly structured learning environment; (2. ) Focus on contextual learning; Build on learners’ prior knowledge; (4. ) Provide constant review; (5. ) Simplify language; (6. ) Build other skills while developing English.
The use of standardized testing to identify and assess the progress of English language learners with special needs is problematic. Normally designed for native English speakers, many assessment instruments do not reliably assess speakers of other languages because they ignore differences among linguistic and cultural groups (Schwarz & Burt, 1995). Assessment of English language learners with special needs should include the following: (1. ) Consideration of cultural and developmental information; (2. Collaboration of parents, teachers, counselors, psychologists, speech/language pathologists, and ESL specialists: (4. ) Determination of first language proficiency; (5. ) Examination of assessor’s cultural assumptions and expectations; and (6. ) Continual revision of the assessment instruments and procedures used. Because procedures are not in place in many schools and school districts to successfully determine academic placement of English language learners, many of these learners are sometimes placed inappropriately.
Some who do not need special services (other than English as a second language) may find themselves in special education classes. Others who need special services may be placed in regular classes without the extra supports and services that they need. Working with English language learners and with students requiring special education services requires collaboration among teachers, school psychologists, speech pathologists, and assessment personnel with expertise in general, bilingual, and special education.
By incorporating these important and critical procedures in our planning processes, these collaborations in the identification and assessment of English language learners can be a less stressful and more constructive process. A second issue that ELL instructors must contend with is NCLB testing requirements, which involve legal as well as academic understanding. Under Title I and Title III of the law, districts must also annually (in kindergarten through grade 12) assess ELLs in English language proficiencycovering reading, writing speaking and listening.
Title III also requires that the assessment cover comprehension. The U. S. Department of Education has indicated that comprehension can be demonstrated through reading and listening, so the same assessment may be used to meet the requirements of both titles of the law. ELLs must also be included in the state assessment system. However, during their first year of enrollment in U. S. schools, ELLs are not required by the law to take the reading/English language arts assessment. During this first year of enrollment in U. S. chools, they must take an English proficiency assessment and, if the state desires, will also participate in the reading/English language arts assessment. As an accommodation, ELLs may take the reading/English language arts state assessment in their native language for three to five years. States are only required to develop and administer native language assessments “to the extent practicable. ” Other accommodations include: small group administration, extra time or flexible scheduling, simplified instructions, dictionaries, recorded native language instructions, and letting students record responses in their native language.
States may include results from the math and, if given, the reading/English language arts assessments in AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) calculations, but are not required to do so by the law. However, the number of ELLs taking tests in math, and English language proficiency and/or reading/English language arts must count toward the required 95 percent assessment participation rate. The state determines the exact minimum number. A state has the flexibility to define the ELL or LEP subgroup as only those students receiving direct, daily LEP services.
To meet these federal requirements in Texas, the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) was developed. This assessment system consists of the Reading Proficiency Tests in English (RPTE), which has been administered in Texas since the 1999-2000 school years, and new assessments called Observation Protocols, which were administered as benchmarks in the 2004-2005 school years as well. This assessment system will continue to be used to show the extent to which Title III-funded districts and the state as a whole meet federal English language proficiency accountability measures.
RPTE enables Texas schools to monitor whether LEP students are making steady annual progress in English development during the time they qualify for an exemption from TAKS. RPTE has been carefully designed to assess what LEP students can read and comprehend at distinct stages of learning English. Educators who understand the stages of second language development are better able to help English learners progress from one stage to the next. Texas educators are also able to use this information to adapt instruction. RPTE is used in a number of ways in the Texas assessment program.
These assessments help schools monitor whether recent immigrant students are making steady progress during the time they may qualify for a LEP exemption from other state assessments. RPTE also provides valuable diagnostic information about the English development of LEP students who are not eligible for an exemption and who participate in English or Spanish versions of state assessments. RPTE was developed originally to align with the previous state assessment program, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS).
As of spring 2004, RPTE more closely reflects the design of TAKS reading selections and test questions. Thus, RPTE is a content link to the Texas curriculum and TAKS assessments for English language learners. Finally, ELL instructors at any given level have to contend with special education issues that are individualized for English language learners. With regard to ELL student classes overall, it could be said that approximately the same proportion of very bright individuals, cognitively limited individuals, language handicapped individuals, etc. , will be found in any population.
Statistically, about 12% of the language minority population in the United States may require special education. In some school districts, language minority students are overrepresented in special education, while in other districts, and in certain categories of special education, there is an underrepresentation of handicapped language minority students. While special education is not the only option available to language minority learners with special needs, it is imperative that these students be identified and given access to the full range of special education and related services to meet their needs.
The referral of a student to special education should be an indication that all other avenues have been explored, and that a conclusion has been reached that the child’s needs cannot be met by the regular education program. It may also indicate the presence of a handicapping condition. Confirmation of a handicap and identification of its specific nature are provided by a comprehensive assessment of the student. All referrals of language minority students to special education should include the results of tests in the child’s native language and in English, and all records and reports on which the referral is based.
Verification should be provided of the appropriateness of the school’s curriculum, the qualifications and experience of the teacher, and the appropriateness of instruction provided to the student (continuity, proper sequencing, the teaching of prerequisite skills. ) Documentation of the child’s problems across settings should also be included, along with evidence that the child’s difficulties are present in both languages, and that he or she has not made satisfactory progress despite having received competent instruction.
However, because many of these children are losing or have not fully developed first language skills, it may be difficult to ascertain that the learning difficulty exists across languages. The assessment and placement process is not a simple task. Legal requirements can cause difficulties for districts or schools seeking to implement procedures for assessing LEP (limited English proficiency) children. These requirements can be complex or require a certain level of prior knowledge or expertise. The misdiagnosis of LEP students for special education has led to a number of lawsuits and court orders (Diana v.
California State Board of Education). Fear of litigation by school districts can lead to the under-identification of minority pupils in special education. Data collected by the California State Department of Education (CSDE) pupil count verifies the trend of shifting from over-identification of minorities in special education to under-identification. (Vasquez-Chairez, 1988). Bergin (1980) maintains that students from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds are subjected to various forms of bias.
In the past, such bias led to referring LEP students to special education for reasons other than those making them eligible for special services. It is the objective of fair and appropriate assessment to document any potential difficulties and then to differentiate between those due to intrinsic disorders and those due to cultural and linguistic differences and other intrinsic factors. Only through this process can the appropriate assessment, identification, and programming of exceptional LEP students versus nonexceptional LEP students be accomplished.
As the great writer Glenn Hubbard once noted, “Preparation for education is relentless. ” As young ELLs enroll in preschool and primary school programs in record numbers, educators must continually strive to provide effective, nurturing environments and developmentally and linguistically appropriate instruction for all learners. This instruction should take into consideration the characteristics of young English language learners and their language development, the learning conditions that are most effective for these learners, and the kinds of instruction that best meet their needs.