Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Students

Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Students

Students from underserved populations have continually been disproportionately represented in special education (Artiles, Kozleski, Ortiz, Osher, and Trent 2010). Additionally, culturally and linguistically diverse students continue to be a growing population within schools throughout the nation (Sullivan 2011). Students who are referred for special education from culturally and linguistically diverse populations may be placed in special education based on language deficits, rather than meeting the criteria for a specific learning disability. The referral process for students in special education becomes exponentially more confusing. More clearly, “LEP children are frequently referred for special education because of oral-language-related factors (Rhodes, Ochoa, and Ortiz 2005).” This means that pre-referral teams need to evaluate their preparedness to appropriately determine the need for special education services. Several components of the pre-referral team should be examined. First, the composition of the pre-referral team needs to be evaluated. The team needs to have at least one member who has knowledge about the cultural, linguistic, and instructional factors that can have an impact on performance and behavior. Ochoa et al. (2005) indicated that 88% of psychologists in schools feel they do not have adequate training to assess special education placement for students who are second language learners. The next factor that impacts the pre-referral process is how the school personnel perceive the pre-referral teams. In some cases, schools exclude children from state testing due to limited English proficiency. In others, special education might be seen as a lifeboat for students struggling due to language deficiencies. However, “referring a child to special education should never be based on the notion of “saving” the child from regular education or trying to compensate for inadequate instruction” (Rhodes et al. 2005). Individuals on the pre-referral team should, “consider how they would feel if their child were referred to special education because (1) it will not hurt him or her; (2) their child could get “extra” help; (3) general education does not provide the actual program that could result in their child improving their educational performance; or (4) the teacher does not have the skills to work with their child” (Rhodes et al. 2005). It seems that placement of students from diverse backgrounds (language and cultural diversity) is more protecting the school from realizing they do not have the services needed to provide a quality education to all of their students. The final pre-referral consideration for schools is to figure out how the team typically functions, does the team serve as a rubber stamp, approving everyone or do they take their time to properly evaluate the student. If the former is true, the team needs some tweaking. In house research should be completed to ensure that there is not disproportionality of populations within special education services.

Buzz Lightyear
One student, Buzz Lightyear, is being reevaluated for special education services. Upon reevaluation, it is unclear whether he has been referred for special education services due to actual need or due to cultural and linguistic differences. As a result, a thorough review of the criteria needs to be completed. Exploration of several criteria will aim to clarify whether special education services are appropriate. There are several criteria to ensure appropriate eligibility for special education. Also, it is important to examine the pre-referral interventions in place.

Pre-Referral Intervention
Through the educational background and record review, it is clear the Buzz is receiving support via special education services. One area Buzz is receiving support is ESL and speech/language services. To make the best decision, it would be good to collect more information about the type of bilingual education program. The best type of bilingual education program is a two way, dual language bilingual education program. In this type of program, both students who are English speakers and students who have limited English proficiency, a second language is learned. The goal is developing bilingual students. This program is given for at least 4-6 years, and instruction is provided in both languages. Through this type of program second language acquisition help students develop two types of language proficiencies. Students gain basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) (Rhodes et al. 2005). Given we have limited information on the type of support Buzz is already receiving; we cannot assess the pre-referral interventions that are in place. The next step is to examine whether or not Buzz meets the criteria for specific learning disability. There are three categories to determine eligibility. The first is inadequate achievement.

Inadequate Achievement
First, inadequate achievement needs to be documented in response to appropriate classroom instruction. The student needs to demonstrate inadequate achievement and documentation must be representative of the child’s curriculum. Verification of inadequate achievement can be based on an cumulative record review, classroom work samples, formal and informal tests, repeated measures of achievement, curriculum based assessments, instructional support programs, district or state assessments, and teacher records. Buzz qualifies for this criterion based on documentation in several of these areas. First, a cumulative record review was completed. End of year report cards indicate that Buzz struggled in multiple content areas. In 2006, Buzz was evaluated for special education services for the first time. He qualified for a slew of special education services including ESL, reading, writing, math, social skills, and more.

A second source which demonstrates the criteria for inadequate achievement is found in teacher records. Teachers indicate Buzz needed additional help in listening attentively, staying on task, handwriting skills, sounding out words, vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, writing complete thoughts, using correct punctuation, and writing in sequence. However, exclusionary factors must be considered before determining whether or not Buzz meets the criteria for inadequate achievement.

The first exclusionary factor is visual, hearing, or motor impairments. Buzz is currently receiving occupational therapy for fine motor skills and visual motor skill strengthening. He experiences difficulty visually tracking items from left to write and appears to look at his work by turning his head to the left and viewing it from his right visual field. While Buzz has no issues with physical activities (sports and physical education), handwriting continues to be difficult. Based on this information, further testing needs to be completed to insure that this factor would not exclude Buzz from receiving special education services.

The next possible exclusionary factor is developmental cognitive disabilities. This can be ruled out due to the Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test (UNIT) results. Buzz earned a full scale IQ of 95 on the standard battery of the UNIT test. His current intelligence is ranked within the average level. The subtests scores all fall within the average range as well.

The next exclusionary factor would be emotional or behavioral disorders. Buzz does not meet this exclusionary factor based on information provided by the family and by information from the classroom observations. Buzz’s mother shares that he does not exhibit inappropriate behaviors at home that concern her. According to emotional, social, behavioral development Buzz shows age appropriate impulse control and on task behavior. While at times he is not participating in classroom activities or tracking teacher instruction, his behavior falls within acceptable parameters.
The next exclusionary factor would be environmental, cultural, or economic influences. At this point, not enough information is provided to appropriately identify if this exclusionary factor would prevent Buzz from receiving special education services. The next exclusionary factor is limited English proficiency. Language proficiency is assessed by examining the student’s level of spoken and written English, the student’s proficiency on his or her home language, and exploring what instruction the student has received in language in either English or the student’s native language (Rhodes, et al 2005). Based on assessment data from the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals -4 (CELF-4) test, Buzz earned a core language score of 64, a score which falls over two standard deviations below the mean score. This would demonstrate a significant delay in some of his language skills in English. Additionally, Buzz was assessed using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals -3 Spanish Edition (CELF-3 Spanish Edition). His scores on the Spanish language assessment were lower than the language scores in English – showing that Buzz has significant delays in his some of Buzz’s Spanish language skills. While Buzz seemed to understand some of what the interpreter said, it was not consistent, and as the language use became more complicated, buzz’s understanding faltered. This would indicate the Buzz does not have a strong grasp of English or Spanish, though he is able to comprehend conversational language at a base level for both languages. Perhaps, this indicates that Buzz has developed some interpersonal communication skills in both English and his home language, but has not developed cognitive academic language proficiency in either language. Based on this information, Buzz would meet the criteria for exclusionary factors due to limited English proficiency. It would seem that Buzz needs directed instruction in both his home language and in English prior to Special Education services being granted. The final exclusionary factor could exclude Buzz from special education services. The pre-referral team needs to evaluate whether or not there was appropriate instruction in reading and math. Not enough information is present to determine if this exclusionary factor would make Buzz ineligible. The next main factor to determine Buzz’s placement is severe discrepancy.

Severe Discrepancy
Severe discrepancy is achieved based on a discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement in on or more of the following areas: basic reading skills, reading comprehension, and listening comprehension, oral expression, written expression, mathematical calculation, mathematical reasoning, and reading fluency. For re-evaluation, the discrepancy needs to be present. For initial evaluation the standard deviation needs to be more than 1.75 standard deviations below the mean distribution on a given assessments. Buzz meets this criterion. Buzz earned a full scale IQ of 95 on the UNIT standard battery, indicating an average intelligence. Based on the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement III (WJ-III), Buzz qualified for severe discrepancy in the following areas: Reading comprehension, written expression, broad reading, and broad written language. However, there are some advantages and disadvantages to keep in mind when referring to the WJ-III test. First, the WJ-III’s test has large enough sample sizes that reflect diversity in race and ethnicity. Additionally, it is comprehensive and well designed. However, some disadvantages include that the test may penalize students form whom English is a second language (Rhodes et al. 2005). Thus, the test results might not be as accurate. However, given the number of formal assessments that were administered to Buzz, it seems enough information was provided to adequately determine severe discrepancy. The evaluator was wise to use the UNIT test to ensure that language was not a barrier to accurately explore intelligence. In addition, the testing was comprehensive, assessing Buzz’s skills, intelligence, and achievement both in English and Spanish.

The final criteria area for Specific learning disabilities is basic psychological processing documented across multiple settings using a variety of sources. At this point, Buzz would not meet the criteria for psychological processing issues. He does exhibit deficiencies in psychological processing throughout school, but a variety of settings. In order to clearly evaluate this criterion, more information needs to be collected at home and in environments that are not classroom settings (extracurricular settings). At this point there is no data on issues outside of school. The school has the following concerns. The first psychological process is storage. Buzz has challenges following directions, recalling or retelling information, retaining sequences, grasping simple word meanings, and recognizing or recalling information. Next, Buzz has organizational challenges. He has a hard time getting assignment turned in on time and using planning skills. The third psychological process that Buzz difficulty with is acquisition of information. He has a hard time linking new information to old previously covered information. Fourth, Buzz has challenge retrieving previously learned information in reasonable amounts of time. Fifth, Buzz has difficulty with expression. He has a challenge with oral reading, reading fluency, writing fluency, and participating in classroom activities. This was noted in classroom observations. Finally, Buzz has challenges with manipulation. He cannot apply learned information to new situations. He cannot infer information, summarize, or interpret information. Writing sentences of various lengths is challenging. All of these psychological processes could be either a result of a specific language disability or insufficient understanding of his home language and in English. These behaviors may be appearing at home as well, but we do not have knowledge of Buzz’s families predominate language or whether an interpreter was utilized when collecting information from his mother. Also, it is unclear if there are cultural barriers that prevent Buzz’s family from full participating in the evaluation process.

Buzz meets parts of the criteria for special education services. Buzz qualifies for inadequate achievement based on the record review and teacher observations. Exclusionary factors might exist and more information needs to be collected to appropriately rule out visual, hearing, or motor impairment; environmental, cultural, or economic influences, and whether or not there was a lack of appropriate instruction in reading and math. However, it seems clear that the data indicates that Buzz has limited English proficiency. This exclusionary factor results in Buzz not being eligible for special education service. The under achievement is primarily a result of the limited English proficiency. Next, a severe discrepancy exists in reading comprehension, written expression, broad reading, and broad written language. There for Buzz meets the severe discrepancy criteria. Finally, Buzz does display disorder in psychological processing; however more information needs to be record to demonstrate that this exists throughout multiple settings. With the information present, Buzz would not qualify for special education services without additional information being collected and evaluated.

My School
At my school, students begin learning a second language in kindergarten. Their language classes continue until at least junior year of high school. In addition to a foreign language (French, Chinese, or Spanish) students are instructed in English class throughout all years of schooling. In my school, if teachers, parents, or administration have concerns about a learning disability, the students are evaluated outside of the school. We have worked with neighboring school districts or some families choose to have an independent evaluator conduct testing. To ensure that linguistic and cultural diversity do not affect the evaluation process, we need to ensure that we have contact information for independent evaluators who are trained in assessing students with language/cultural differences. Also, it is important to ensure that interpreters are available for both the testing (if the evaluator does not speak the student’s home language) and to be present when working with the families. Steps that could be taken to minimize cultural bias and best support families who are culturally diverse include, recognizing and acknowledging that all educators enter the classroom with biases and assumptions about people with cultures different from my own (Kidd, Sanchez, Thorp 2008). Thus, participating in experiences that develop awareness and insights into diverse cultures will help create a culturally responsive disposition. Additionally, being curious and offering opportunities for students to share information about their home culture promotes deeper understanding, thus helping to negate the biases people have. Kidd et al. (2005) “defines culturally responsive teaching as ‘as using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively.’” Finally, it is important to continually examine the referral and evaluation process to address disproportionality. This is a task mainly for administration. However, this is a step that can be taken to personally help support students and their families.

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