By Linda Broatch, M.A.
Evaluating an English Language Learner (ELL) student for a learning disability (LD) can be quite complicated. Currently, there's no ideal testing procedure to distinguish between learning problems associated with learning to speak, read, and write in English; and an actual learning disability. Schools do the best they can with the tools they have. Researchers and educators have come up with some evaluation practices they believe are effective in getting ELL students the academic help they need.
Here are some general features to look for in a high-quality evaluation of an ELL student for learning disabilities:
The goal of this evaluation is to distinguish as accurately as possible which of a child's learning difficulties are the result of English-language learning, and which are due to a learning disability.
To accurately measure a child's language and literacy skills, assessments should be:
An oral language assessment (in one or both languages, as appropriate for the student) evaluates skills, such as:
A reading assessment evaluates basic skills* such as:
*Note: All of these reading skills are taught in research-based classroom instruction.
This is by no means a complete list of the language and reading skills the school team may evaluate. But often, if an ELL student has problems with these types of skills in both languages, school professionals will suspect a learning disability.
After all the evaluation data are collected and reviewed, team members will use their professional judgment to determine that either your child needs more support in his regular classroom, or that he requires special education services, in order to succeed in school.
By learning about the three types of learning problems that an ELL student may experience, you will be better able to work with your child's school to get him the help he needs.
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