Disproportionate Representation of English Language Learners (ELLs) in Special Education Programs


This issue of NASET’s Practical Teacher was written by Olga M. Torguet of Florida International University. The subject of underrepresentation and overrepresentation of English Language Learners (ELLs) in special education programs has been a topic of discussion in the field of education for many years. Students who are English Language Learners (ELL) experience many obstacles when entering the U.S. educational system. When these students struggle more than most students, they may face an even larger obstacle. In many occasions, teachers erroneously attribute low school performance to a lack of English language acquisition. Other times, educators make the opposite mistake when ELLs exhibit characteristics that resemble traits of students with learning or language disabilities and associate their poor school performance with a disability. Accurately identifying ELLs who also need special education services has long been a challenge for educators.

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