3. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Limited Language

Too many American school children are referred to special education because of inadequate knowledge of English. Inappropriate teacher referrals send many LEP (Limited English Proficiency) pupils to special education. “For instance, in California, where students with limited English proficiency make up 22.2% of the student population, LEP students (also known as English language learners or ELL students) are significantly over-represented in special education, particularly in specific learning disabilities and speech impairment classes” (Cast, Minow, 2001).

IEP teams have difficulty sorting out LEP from disabled pupils, and misdiagnosis occurs. SLPs and psychologists play key roles in evaluating cognitive-linguistic abilities, essential to non-placement decisions: “There are a number of possible causes for the disproportionate representation of LEP students in special needs categories. One possible cause is that some school systems are continuing to assign students to special education programs on the basis of criteria that essentially measure and evaluate the English skills of students. Other causes may include inadequacy of reading instruction, ineffective assessment and placement procedures, or even racial or ethnic bias” (Cast, Minow, 2001).

Ladner (2006), writing for the Goldwater Institute: “Overhauling the special education labeling system makes a good deal of sense. Determining which students will actually benefit from special education services should be scientifically established and then parents should be given the ability to choose the provider of those services.”

“To achieve equality of access to special needs services and to ensure that all students are being educated adequately and effectively, both under-identification and over-identification of LEP students regarding special education status must be examined, thoroughly monitored, and eventually remedied. One study concludes that “[it is] imperative to monitor the quality of educational programs offered to linguistic minority students in general, bilingual, and special education as well as the long-term consequences of placement decisions for these students.”[14]”  (Cast)

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