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Regional Educational Laboratory Program

Processes and Challenges in Identifying Learning Disabilities Among English Language Learner Students in three New York State Districts

Northeast & Islands
To help districts accurately identify students who are English language learners and also have learning disabilities, this study examines practices and challenges in the processes applied in three New York State districts in identifying learning disabilities among students who are English language learners. Using interviews with district and school personnel and documents from state and district web sites, the study finds both similarities and differences in practices, with more differences in the prereferral process than in the referral process. It identifies eight challenges to the identification of learning disabilities in English language learner students: difficulties with policy guidelines; different stakeholder views about timing for referral of English language learner students; insufficient knowledge among personnel involved in identification; difficulties providing consistent, adequate services to English language learner students; lack of collaborative structures in prereferral; lack of access to assessments that differentiate between second language development and learning disabilities; lack of consistent monitoring of struggling students who are English language learners; and difficulty obtaining students' previous school records. Further analysis suggests five interrelated elements that appear to be important for avoiding misidentification of learning disabilities among students who are English language learners: adequate professional knowledge, effective instructional practices, effective and valid assessment and interventions, interdepartmental collaborative structures, and clear policy guidelines.
Publication Type:
Issues & Answers
Online Availability:
Publication Date:
February 2010