The effects of labeling Hispanic English language learners as learning disabled
Rodriguez, Sandra Irma
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English language learners (ELLs) are often placed in special education due to lack of knowledge on the part of educators of the language acquisition process and because of the pressures educators face to meet state and federal accountability standards. Once in special education, many students’ experiences lead to negative outcomes for those students including stigmatization, inadequate academic preparation, and few opportunities for a successful professional career potential. The purpose of this cross case study was to investigate the effects of labeling English language learners as learning disabled (LD). Three ELLs with normal intelligence who were labeled as LD and placed in special education were identified for this study. The students’ permanent record files and special education records throughout their schooling were first reviewed and analyzed. Then, the case study students and their parents completed surveys and participated in interviews conducted over a two year period. The conclusions from the data analysis revealed that the students felt that their placement in special education was due to their lack of English language proficiency. Conclusions showed that there were problems with school personnel including a lack of knowledge of second language acquisition, non-compliance with special education requirements in the referral and evaluation processes, and failure to include the students’ culture or other factors when identifying these students. These conclusions can be described by the Contextual Interaction Model which includes factors at the national and state levels, the community and family levels, and at the school level that influence schooling. The implications and recommendations for the teachers, administrators and parents are discussed including the need for training in issues related to second language acquisition and cultural and environmental factors influencing the schooling of ELLs.