Printer Friendly

Understanding English language learners.

English language learners (ELLs) are one of the fastest growing student populations in the United States, according to "Education Week." The National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2012 - 2013, 9.2 percent of public school students in the U.S. were English language learners. Numbers of ELLs are expected to increase in the future. This means that more schools will be responsible for educating more and more students who may not have a firm grasp on English.

ELLs will account for 40 percent of the school-age population in the United States by the year 2030, according to

The National Center for Education Statistics says:

"Students who are English language learners (ELL) participate in appropriate programs of language assistance, such as English as a Second Language, High Intensity Language Training, and bilingual education to help ensure that they attain English proficiency, develop high levels of academic attainment in English, and meet the same academic content and academic achievement standards that all students are expected to meet."

By the Numbers

The Center for Education Statistics found that:

* Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington D.C. have 10% or more ELLs in their pubic school student populations

* California has the most ELLs at 22.8% of the public school population

* Urban cities (14% enrollment) tend to have more ELLs than suburban (8.9%) and rural (3.5%) areas

The National Education Association reports that:

* 75% of ELLs speak Spanish

* 66% come from low-income households

* ELLs are given reading and math tests in English before they are proficient in the language

* Only 29% of ELLs scored at or above the basic level in reading (versus 75% of the non-ELL population)

* Dropout rates for ELLs are excessively high

Clearly, the education system is not serving these students as well as it could be. reports that:

* 5% of public school students have a learning disability

* 50% of those students have a language-based disability

Identifying a learning disability becomes more complex for ELLs because it can be tricky to determine which students struggle because of their proficiency in English versus which students are struggling because of a learning disability.

What is Typical for an ELL?

According to colorincolorado. org, the following are normal behaviors in children learning a new language:

* "Interference or transfer" from language one to language two because of differences in sentence structure

* For example, a native-Spanish speaker might say "this jacket is more smaller" because of syntax in Spanish

* A "silent period," where a child is focusing on listening and comprehension instead of speaking. This could last a few weeks to a year or more

* "Code-switching," or using both languages in one sentence or thought

* Language loss where the student loses fluency in their first language because they do not practice it enough

ELLs and Disabilities

Recently, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, or NCEERA, released a report entitled "Identifying and supporting English learner students with learning disabilities: Key issues in the literature and state practice." The report explained:

"No single method has proven effective in differentiating between English learner students who have difficulty acquiring language skills and those who have learning disabilities."

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the following might indicate that a child has a learning disability:

* Difficulty organizing thoughts to express herself

* Memory problems

* Coordination problems

* History of delayed speech in native language

* Poor handwriting in native language or English

* Dislike reading in native language or English

How To Help

NCEERA recommends the following for assisting ELLs with learning disabilities:

Get Parents Involved

* When possible, have face-to-face meetings instead of sending home flyers.

* Encourage parents to bring a friend to serve as an interpreter if you cannot fford to hire one.

* Translate flyers and letters into the parents' native languages.

* With the school district, explore the possibility of utilizing a bilingual "parent liaison" to help parents understand all aspects of the school system.

Collect Qualitative Data (Standardized Tests, etc.) and Quantitative Data

* Facilitate collecting qualitative data.

* Have clear policies in place.

One study found that staff and teachers were unclear about where to refer ELLs who exhibit signs of disabilities.

According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the following actions can help children with learning disabilities:

Provide Structure

Students with language learning disabilities "have trouble deciphering language, listening, and following instructions." Limit the number of words in directions and break instructions down into easy-to-follow steps. Also, learn key phrases in your students' native languages.

Promote Self-Esteem

Students with disabilities know that what is hard for them is often easy for others. They feel discouraged and lose confidence in themselves. Teachers can promote self-esteem by:

* Providing concrete words of praise like "You are listening well" or "You are doing a good job of staying in your seat"

* Finding out what the child enjoys and excels at and asking her about it

* Creating certificates for safe bus ridership in the student's first language and giving them to the student

Empower the Student

Though it may be tempting to step in and solve a problem for an ELL, it can make that student feel helpless. Instead, get her involved in the decision-making process. Ask "What options do we have?" or "What can we do about this?"

Sources:, 7/22/15;;; ldaamerica. org;;;

"Schools, districts, and states struggle with this issue, and some English learner students fail to receive effective support services because the nature of their academic difficulties is misidentified. "

--National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

If you would like to read the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance's full report on ELLs and learning disabilities,
COPYRIGHT 2016 PaperClip Communications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Special Report
Publication:Curriculum Review
Date:Jan 1, 2016
Previous Article:Handling stress through meditation.
Next Article:Activities calendar.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |