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Special Topic: English Learners with Disabilities

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Dr. Amy Sussman
(202) 245-7424



The English Learners with Disabilities (English Learners) topic supports research that contributes to positive education or school readiness outcomes of English learners with or at risk for disabilities in preschool through Grade 12. The Institute uses the term English learner under a broad definition encompassing all students whose home language is not English and whose English language proficiency hinders their ability to meet expectations for students at their grade level.

English learners (ELs) are a growing population in the United States. According to The Condition of Education, students with disabilities receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act constitutes approximately 13.8% of ELs, a statistic that only includes children actually identified and receiving services in elementary or secondary schools. Measurement and proper classification for EL and disability status is a challenge. ELs may have disabilities that mask their low proficiency in English skills or they may appear to have a disability when their academic problems stem from English acquisition. Measuring English proficiency is also a policy issue. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that (1) all states develop standard criteria and procedures for determining EL status, and (2) all EL students, including those with disabilities, participate in annual English language proficiency assessments. In recent years, state education agencies having been choosing English language proficiency assessments and must find a way to select ones that can be used for students who are both ELs and have disabilities. According to a Report to Congress by the Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition, states and districts currently vary not only in assessments to establish proficiency, but the cut points to guide decisions about EL status. Further, the overall criteria for determining EL status, including how the assessment data is used alone or in conjunction with other criteria, vary greatly by state. These are important issues because whether a student is designated as EL impacts services received to support English language learning. To address these issues and related questions about English learners with or at risk for disabilities, the Institute invites applications for research aimed at enhancing our understanding of factors that impact education outcomes, developing and evaluating interventions to enhance education outcomes, and developing valid assessments for EL students with or at risk for disabilities.