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Helping English Language Learners Who Struggle in School

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By Linda Broatch, M.A.

Type 3 Difficulties: Formally Evaluating an ELL Student for Learning Disabilities

Schools have different procedures for deciding when to formally evaluate a student for learning disabilities. Regardless of the school's formal evaluation process, you have a legal right at any time (under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to ask the school to formally evaluate your child for learning disabilities (LD). If the school declines your request, they must give you their reasons for doing so, in writing. On the other hand, if the school wishes to formally evaluate your child for LD, they must have your written permission to do so.

Once the formal evaluation process begins, the school will provide you a document describing parents' rights and responsibilities. Under IDEA, parents are full and equal members of the teams that evaluate the student and determine whether he's eligible for special education services; your questions and knowledge are essential to this work.

Unfortunately, there's no ideal method to distinguish between a learning disability and problems associated with learning to speak, read, and write in English. However, researchers and educators have come up with evaluation practices they believe are effective in getting ELL students the academic help they need. Don't hesitate to share this information with your child's school.

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.

Comments from readers

"Hi. I am hispanic woman and I have 2 children my oldest is 6 and attends first grade now, since Kindergarten she has been recognized as a 'kinesthetic learner' but the teacher also implied that she has some attention issues. The pediatrician told us to wait since she was only 5 years old. She was placed in an ELL program though she speaks english most of the time she does have knowlegde of spanish but is not as fluent as she is in english. My husband only speaks english. I do speak both at home but mostly english. So now the ELL teacher suggested that we should take her to the doctor again because even though she is not 'struggling' she fears that she might fall behind because it seems that she has a hard time staying focused and finishes her tasks poorly. Now, last year she learned to read really fast,she is a hands on learner and was at the end of first grade level reading at the end of kindergarten, this year at the first parents teacher conference,her teacher said that ! she is ok. What should we do? She is very active so her pediatrician told us that she is just an active child. We are considering getting an specialist to asses her but the ELL teacher told us to get the forms from the doctor's office which I did but honestly those forms come from the pharmaceutical offices,like seriously??? Don't get me wrong, I know there are children that need medication and those meds have helped children through decades but is there any other way to help my child besides considering drugs??? Because I have the sense that it will go down that road with us. What are the goals by the end of this year on the ELL program for first graders? She reads ,writes and speaks english, I would like to know the standars for her age. Plus she and other children from different ethnicities have been placed in the same classroom so it kind of puzzles me ,if they want them to learn the language properly wouldn't be fair for them to be mixed with the rest of the english sp! eakers??? "
" It's extremely critical to a student's academic success to define their early learning needs. There's no two ways about it, Hispanic students have different values, different parenting, and come from a culture where boys are favored and are excused from the menial tasks that girls are expected to do. It'll take time for the lives of these students to assimilate American traditions and their parents, most likely, never will. "