Understanding English language learners.
ELLs will account for 40 percent of the school-age population in the United States by the year 2030, according to colorincolorado.org.
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.
Council-for-learning-disabilities.org 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:
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.
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: blogs.edweek.org, 7/22/15; colorincolorado.org; ies.ed.gov; ldaamerica. org; my.clevelandclinic.org; nces.ed.gov; nea.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, visit:ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/regions/west/pdf/REL_2015086.pdf