Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a 2 day conference about doing  evaluations with children that are English Language Learners. I learned a lot of great information so I thought I would share a summary of it. The conference was put on by The Second Language Literacy and Learning Connection, LLC. You can check out their website at for more information.

Here is a summary of the information I learned regarding best practices for working with English Language Learners (ELLs).

·      Evaluations must be modified for ELLs to truly determine if they require special education services

o   We should not rely on standardized tests for monolingual speakers, as standard scores are not valid or reliable. Normative data is not established for ELLs. Also, dual-language learners acquire language in a slightly different pattern than monolingual children.

§  If standardized tests are used, we should write a disclaimer that states that the results need to be interpreted with caution because the child is an ELL

§  There are speech and language tests designed for children that speak both English and Spanish, like the PLS-5 Spanish

o   We should do a thorough interview with parents (using a trained interpreter if necessary). We need to determine if there were delays in acquiring the native language. We also need to determine how much the child is exposed to both languages and in what situations.

§  It’s important to note that right after a child begins an English speaking school, it’s normal to see a small regression in native language skills. This is called language loss and does not indicate a language disorder.

§  A child might go through a “silent period” soon after beginning an English speaking school because the language demands are too far above his/her language skills. He/she may not speak for a period of time, but this does not necessarily indicate a language disorder or selective mutism

o   We should observe the child during informal play or conversation. It’s important to use an interpreter if the examiner does not speak the child’s native language so that we can determine conversational skills, sentence structure, vocabulary, etc in native language

o   It’s important to include dynamic assessment, such as a story retell task or directly teaching the child the name of a new object to see how quickly the child learns and retains new information

o   We should determine if language differences are a result of interference. Interference occurs when the features of one language are transferred to the second language. For example in Spanish, possessive –s is not used, so an ELL might omit possessive –s in English. Interference is a normal occurrence and does not indicate a language disorder.

o   Nationwide, there is an overrepresentation of ELLs in special education.

·      Best practices for intervention include the following:

o   The child needs to continue to develop skills in his/her native language

§  Research shows that developing skills in the dominant language help children learn a second language

§  Parents should be encouraged to use their native language at home

·      Children will need to have skills in their language for cultural reasons and to communicate with other family or community members

·      Parents will be able to provide a stronger, more linguistically rich model in their native language

·      Again, developing skills in their native language will facilitate the acquisition of a 2nd language

o   An interpreter can be used in therapy sessions so that the native language can continue to develop. Also, the child may need to hear instructions in his/her native language to understand the therapy task (I am not sure what federal law says about using an interpreter. This conference really dealt with best practice).

o   If a child is struggling to learn English, but did not show delays in acquiring his/her native language, then RTI based strategies in the classroom can be used.

§  Require only non-verbal responses in English until the child builds confidence (especially if the child is a low-risk taker)

§  Pre-teach vocabulary words before a new lesson or reading passage

§  Directly discuss the differences between the 2 languages

§  Use cognate words to teach vocabulary- cognates are words that share a similar root word in both languages. There are at least 10,000 cognates for English and Spanish

§  Use peers to help teach the ELL. ELLs often feel more comfortable trying new skills with peers first

§  Use culturally-relevant books- Using books that may depict experiences the child had in his/her native country or holidays/events in the cultural community can help teach language skills and narrative skills


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