ERIC Identifier: ED425892
Publication Date: 1999-01-00
Author: Lozano-Rodriguez, Jose R. - Castellano, Jaime A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools
Assessing LEP Migrant Students for Special Education Services.
Among the most needy groups, migrant students who--transfer from school
district to school district, within or between states, accompanying their
parents on a quest for seasonal employment--may be the most "at risk" group of
all. Yet, many of these students are not identified for needed special education
services in a timely manner. This Digest describes the obligations of schools to
provide such services and discusses approaches to referring students, assessing
children, working with families, and placing children in special education
THE OBLIGATION AND THE NEED
Federal law mandates special
education services for all children in the United States who need them from
birth to age 21. Legislative evolution of this mandate began with the Education
for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142) and continued with
passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) (P.L.
101-476). The law requires that children be fairly assessed in their native
language, and classified according to type of disability (such as hearing
impaired, learning disabled, speech and language impaired, mentally handicapped,
developmentally delayed, or many other such classifications). Children are to
receive educational services they need to be successful at school in the least
restrictive environment through an individualized educational program.
Although the past 25 years have seen a progression of legislation and
regulations to reform special education, the needs of migrant children with
disabilities have received little attention (Figueroa, 1993). One long-standing
barrier to the delivery of adequate special education services to migrant
students has been the lack of interdisciplinary information sharing among
regular, migrant, and special educators (National Policy Workshop on the Special
Education Needs of Migrant Handicapped Students, 1984). Although they have not
attracted much attention from the special education reformers, migrant students
with disabilities may be among the most severely affected by physical and mental
conditions resulting from poverty, poor nutrition, and multiple health problems
(Baca & Harris, 1988). The U.S. Office of Special Education (1998) reports
that nearly 8% of public school students receive special education services
under IDEA. Migrant children are not exempt from the conditions underlying these
statistics, and some need the services of special educators, as well as
instruction by teachers of English for speakers of other languages, to benefit
from the rest of the school program.
The referral process takes time and
includes requirements that vary among agencies, districts, and states. This
Digest includes general information about the process for the school-aged child.
When teachers notice a child having difficulty in the classroom, they should
refer the child to a "child study team." The difficulties observed may be in
communication, learning, behavior, emotional state, or other areas. A child
study team is usually made up of teachers, psychologists, speech and language
pathologists, social workers, or other professionals as needed. If the student
shows some learning difficulty, strategies to correct the difficulty must be put
in place and documented within a reasonable time.
When classroom strategies do not correct the difficulty, parental permission
to test must be requested. An educational screening is done first to determine
if further testing is necessary. This screening usually consists of tests for
nonverbal ability, vocabulary, math, and reading and writing skills. If the need
for further testing is detected, the child is then referred for an in-depth
assessment. Because migrant students may spend less than the usual amount of
time within a particular school, educators must move "quickly" to complete the
process, which will allow access to needed special education services.
ASSESSING THE CHILD
Because most migrant students are from
Hispanic (primarily Mexican) backgrounds, multidisciplinary assessment teams
should include bilingual educators along with the speech and language
pathologists, psychologists, and other specialists. The children's language and
cultural backgrounds will affect every aspect of the needs assessment process
(Collier & Hoover, 1987). Assessments conducted in the student's native
language, using a combination of standardized and qualitative information, such
as teacher and parent questionnaires, will produce the most reliable and valid
Evaluators must consider as many aspects of the student's life circumstances
as possible to accurately interpret the results of educational testing. In
particular, a student's emotional well-being, length of time in the United
States, and overall health status must be studied and considered. Migrant
students' experiences may vary so greatly from experiences required for good
performance on U.S. educational achievement measures that the tests prove
invalid for such youngsters. Thus, background information is essential for
adequate assessment (Hamayan & Damico, 1991). The following sections
describe some best practices that can help educators address migrant student
needs in different and creative ways.
Most schools have a waiting list of children to be assessed by a school
psychologist or other specialists. Because of their transience, though, migrant
students should be given testing priority to speed along the process.
IDEA states students must be assessed fairly in their native language. If
these services are unavailable, providing a trained interpreter would be the
next best option. Small school districts must consider contracting services from
qualified personnel in the community or nearby counties. In the event a
psycho-educational evaluation is necessary, instruments such as the Leiter
International Scales-Revised (Roid & Miller, 1997) are highly recommended.
Tests such as the Language Assessment Scales-Reading/Writing (Duncan & De
Avila, 1988) that compare limited-English-proficient (LEP) students with other
LEP students are suggested. If a bilingual speech and language evaluation is
recommended, instruments such as The Clinical Evaluation of Language
Fundamentals-3, Spanish Edition (Semel, Wiig, & Secord, 1997) or The
Preschool Language Scale-3 (Spanish) (Zimmerman, Steiner, & Pond, 1993) and
communication performance scales should be considered. These performance scales
include the Bilingual Classroom Communication Profile (Roseberry-McKibbin, 1993)
and the Observational Rating Scales (Semel, Wiig, & Secord, 1996).
Standardized instruments must be interpreted with "caution." If English
normed tests are used, the evaluator must interpret the results especially
carefully. Research by Zimmerman, Steiner, and Pond (1993) shows that Hispanic
children score nine to ten standard points lower than the population for which
the test was normed. Therefore, test scores must be interpreted carefully before
eligibility and placement decisions are made.
WORKING WITH PARENTS
Special education procedures may be
totally foreign to migrant parents. And while families vary, educators will
likely encounter particular challenges that are attributable to cultural and
experiential differences between school personnel and migrant parents.
*Keep in mind that migrant parents usually connect
better with a person than an institution. In fact, personal contact brings
extremely positive results.
a person willing to be the regular liaison who speaks the parents' language, and
include this person in all meetings with parents.
confianza (trust) among special educators, parents, and the liaison. The special
education process can be very intimidating to parents. The liaison can explain
the procedures and documents in the parents' language, decreasing their fear.
up on documents sent home and not returned to the school. Sometimes, documents
are not returned due to fear of the system; other times, parents are illiterate
in both English and Spanish.
explain how and why the child will benefit from the program.
the parents through each step of the process and do not assume they understand
it just because they agree with the educators.
questions to make sure the parents understand the process.
parents or take them to visit special education classrooms before the student is
placed into a program.
the parents of their rights under the law and of the benefits of the program.
that these problems are not "contagious," to reassure parents of the child's
A child study team may be ready to place the
student into a particular education program only to find that the student has
already left the school. To avoid this scenario, schools must pursue
interventions quickly. After the evaluation is complete, the child study team
meets with parents to explain the testing results and discuss how best to
address the student's educational needs. If special education services are
needed, the team (including the parents) will design an individualized
educational program, and parents must give their consent. At the end of the
process, place a copy of all the documents in an envelope and urge the parents
to keep them in a safe place so they can present them when registering the child
at other schools.
The special education process requires complex procedures and documentation
that can be intimidating to migrant parents, especially if someone asks a
question about their legal status in this country. Educators should be aware
that asking such questions is illegal. Reassure the parents that the procedures
have been designed to protect their rights and are only a part of the placement
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Many migrant students need
special education services, provided in a timely manner. To better serve this
particular population, the following actions are recommended: (1) migrant
children should be referred for special education services when needed, (2) the
assessment and placement process must be carried out quickly, (3) cultural and
linguistic differences must be considered when testing and placing this
population, (4) educators must establish "confianza" or trust with the parents
to obtain positive results and gain their cooperation in transferring documents
to the next school, and (5) interagency communication and cooperation are
essential to successfully serve these children.
Baca, L., & Harris, K. C. (1988). Teaching
migrant exceptional students. Teaching Exceptional Children, 20(4), 32-35.
Collier, C., & Hoover, J. J. (1987). Cognitive learning strategies for
minority handicapped students. Lindale, TX: Hamilton.
Duncan, S. E., & De Avila, E. A. (1988). Language assessment scales
reading/writing. Monterey, CA: MacMillan-McGraw-Hill.
Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Public Law 94-142. (1975).
Figueroa, R. A. (1993). The education of handicapped migrant students: A
preliminary study of current practices and policies. Association of Mexican
American Educators, Spring 1993.
Hamayan, E. V., & Damico, J. S. (1991). Limiting bias in the assessment
of bilingual students. Austin, TX: ProED.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Public Law 101-476. (1990).
National Policy Workshop on the Special Education Needs of Migrant
Handicapped Students. (1984). Proceedings report. San Antonio, TX: Interstate
Migrant Education Council.
Roid, G. H., & Miller, L. J. (1997). Leiter international performance
scale-revised. Wood Dale, IL: Stoelting.
Roseberry-McKibbin, C. A. (1993). Bilingual classroom communication profile.
Oceanside, CA: Academicmic Communication Associates.
Semel, E., Wiig, E. H., & Secord, W. A. (1996). Observational rating
scales. San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Brace.
Semel, E., Wiig, E. H., & Secord, W. A. (1997). Clinical evaluation of
language fundamentals-3, Spanish edition. San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Brace.
U.S. Office of Special Education. (1998). Report to Congress on the
implementation of the IDEA (20th edition). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
Zimmerman, I. L., Steiner, V. G., & Pond, E. P. (1993). Preschool
language scale-3, Spanish edition. San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Brace.