Eligibility for Special Education in Elementary School: The Role of Diverse Language Experiences

The complexity of the issues relating to the disproportionality of English Language Learners (ELLs) in special education only seems to get more complex and nuanced as we look closer. Although conversations about disproportionality in the world of speech-language pathology frequently revolve around the role of SLPs in mitigating overrepresentation, we must also look closely at underrepresentation. It is also incredibly important to disentangle the distinct issues that specific populations of bilinguals face. A recent article in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools provides some insight into these issues.

The contrasting experiences of emerging bilinguals versus English-proficient bilinguals exemplify the importance of understanding that bilinguals are not a monolith. Emerging bilinguals may face a pattern of underrepresentation in early elementary school, but over-representation in later elementary school. This is different from the apparently persistent underrepresentation of English-proficient bilinguals throughout elementary school grades.

In terms of clinical application, this article highlights the importance of understand how language background affects special education eligibility. This is crucial information for clinicians, who play a very important role in the referral and assessment process. In addition, knowledge of the different patterns of disproportionality that affect specific bilingual populations is a key component in helping to reduce the over- and underrepresentation of ELLs in special education.

Source: Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, Volume 49, October 2018. 


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