Determining special needs placement for students in the ELL program is a complex process, there may be a number of individual or combined factors determining why language minority students are achieving little academic progress over time. The normal process of second language acquisition, the acculturation process, different learning styles, motivation to learn, or the student's lack of prior schooling are a number or potential factors instead of intrinsic learning problems. These factors need to be taken into consideration before a child is referred to Special Education.
A referral to special education should only happen after all other avenues have been explored, and conclude that the child's needs cannot be met by the regular education program.
When considering the needs of English Language Learner students and culturally diverse students, the following general guidelines should be considered through the general education intervention, assessment, and programming process:
English Language Learner and culturally diverse students MUST be involved in the Response to Intervention (RTI) problem solving process before being considered as candidates for special education evaluation and eligibility. This process may involve one or more levels of the RTI procedure and should include the collection of data (Student Data Form???) about the student's culture, experiential and educational background, language proficiency, current curriculum, instructional interventions and accommodations that have been implemented, behavior and adaptive skills, academic progress, and data driven intervention information with progress monitoring data.
- Lack of proficiency and skills in English does not in itself make students eligible for special education.
- An individual who lacks English language skills is different from an individual with a language disorder.
- Oral fluency in English is not a true indication of the overall English language skills necessary for academic success.
- Students may be eligible for both ELL and special education services if the students have been appropriately assessed.
- There is no such thing as a "culture fair" or "culture-free" test.
- All tests given in English are tests of English language proficiency, regardless of their content.
- Learning styles are determined on an individual basis and by the culture of the students.
- Culturally-based behaviors may appear to suggest special education needs.
- Parents of English Language Learner students and culturally diverse students may have a different perception of school from parents of traditional, non-ELLs.
- Parents and family members of all ethnic groups have valuable information about the students to share when planning an appropriate educational plan.
The use of the RTI process is vital in determining if an ELL student's difficulties arc a result of language/cultural differences or due to innate learning problems or emotional/behavioral issues.
Prior to involving professional resource staff in the RTI procedure, problem solving should have already begun at the building level. The building level process should include a description of the difficulty the student is experiencing. Determination should be made as to the appropriateness and effectiveness of the curriculum and instructional methods for ELLs, and the student's problem should be validated in both the first and second languages (ex. Language Sample). At this stage of the problem solving process, materials and methods should be developed, adopted, and modified to fit ELL needs; concepts and vocabulary should be taught in context, and ELL services should be provided as appropriate to the language acquisition level of the student. The following chart can be used to clarify this referral process.