ERIC Identifier: ED303044
Publication Date: 1988-12-00
Author: Cloud, Nancy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
ESL in Special Education. ERIC Digest.
The presence of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students in special
education settings has raised a number of questions about the special needs of
these students and about effective ways to meet these needs. Just as special
education students require specialized instructional programming to account for
identified disabilities, mainstream LEP students require tailored educational
services that account for their second language status. It is, therefore,
reasonable to posit that exceptional LEP students require highly specialized
programs formulated on a well-articulated, integrated knowledge base from
special education and bilingual/ESL education.
SPECIFIC NEEDS OF SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENTS
Education is instruction designed for students who require some degree of
modification in their educational programs because of intellectual, emotional,
sensory, or physical impairments (Glass, Christiansen and Christiansen, 1982).
Modifications may include special curricular materials, specialized teaching
strategies or behavior management techniques, and specially-designed equipment
or facilities. Students with mild disabilities can succeed with modifications in
mainstream classrooms. Other students whose disabilities range from moderate to
severe in nature require placement in special settings. All special students,
regardless of the type or degree of disability, share certain rights and needs,
(1) the right to a free and appropriate public education;
(2) the right to an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) specifying the
student's unique needs and the special education and related services the
student is to receive;
(3) the need to have cognitive, linguistic, academic, and social/emotional
characteristics considered and appropriate environmental modifications or
Effective IEPs for exceptional LEP students would account for all of the
student's basic educational needs, including the need for
English-as-a-second-language (ESL) instruction. LEP students enrolled in special
education require what is most appropriately labeled Special Education-ESL
(SE-ESL) which indicates that the services to be provided account for both a
particular student's disability needs and the student's second language status.
Whether SE-ESL services are provided by an ESL specialist or by a special
educator, the service provider must draw from both fields to bring coordinated
services to the student.
DEGREE OF DISABILITY AND ITS EFFECT ON PROGRAMMING
distinction between students with mild disabilities and those with moderate to
severe disabilities directs both the program focus and the need for specialized
knowledge to deliver appropriate instruction and to modify the instructional
Mildly Disabled. SE-ESL programs for mildly handicapped students parallel
mainstream ESL programs and focus on both oral language development and literacy
development in English. The instructor modifies instruction to account for the
student's disability by employing specialized teaching strategies, by applying
positive reinforcement and behavior management techniques, by providing more
practice, or by attending to self-concept concerns.
Moderately or Severely Disabled. SE-ESL programs for moderately or severely
handicapped students may be developmental for younger students, in an attempt to
establish basic or self-help communication skills in the second language
(requesting assistance, giving personal information, interacting with friends).
For older students, these programs may have a life-skill focus concentrating on
the functional communication skills needed by the individual at home, in the
workplace, and in the community (e.g., shopping, using public transportation,
getting along with neighbors). An example of such a daily living skills ESL
program is Day By Day in English: An ESL-SEDAC Daily Living Skills Resource
Activities Guide (Division of Special Education, New York City Board of
While the need for knowledge of specialized teaching techniques, adaptive
equipment, or prostheses exists for both groups of SE-ESL students, the need for
such knowledge increases incrementally with the degree of disability.
DESIGNING RESPONSIVE SE-ESL PROGRAMS
provides an excellent discussion of the theoretical considerations in planning a
second language program for all types of LEP students, including students with
disabilities. A responsive SE-ESL program will take into account both the
learner attributes critical to second language learning (aptitude,
attitude/motivation, personality, learning style, and learning strategies)
(Oxford-Carpenter, 1986) and those to be considered in designing any special
education program (cognition, motivation, strategic behavior, learning style
preferences, etc.). Essential learner attributes to consider in designing an
SE-ESL program include:
- the learner's disability(ies);
- the learner's current stage of second language acquisition (both oral and
literacy levels); and
- the particular skills of the learner by area (strengths and weaknesses in
listening, speaking, reading, and writing). Other factors to consider to enhance
program success include:
- the learner's age, personality, and interests;
- the learner's communication needs in the second language;
- the degree to which the learner is integrated into the target language
- language learning style.
In general, the more factors accounted for and responded to in planning
second language instruction, the more successful the SE-ESL program will be for
a particular individual (Oxford-Carpenter, 1986; Spolsky, 1988).
Preventing Inappropriate Referral to
Special Education. Concern about the current overreferral of LEP students to
special education (National Coalition of Advocates for Students, 1988) has
prompted a focus on prereferral strategies that can prevent such a problem
(Benavides, 1987; Ortiz and Maldonado-Colon, 1986). LEP students, because of
their cultural and linguistic background, have special instructional needs.
These needs should not be confused with disability, nor should they serve as a
basis for referral to a special education program (Ortiz & Maldonado-Colon,
1986). If a teacher refers a LEP student to the special education program, the
LEP student should undergo psychological testing conducted by qualified
bilingual/bicultural evaluators familiar with the influence of second language
status on the assessment process (Nuttal, Landurand & Goldman, 1984).
More flexible mainstream ESL programs that adequately meet the needs of
special populations of LEP children present in U.S. schools today (e.g.,
preliterate students, underschooled students, highly mobile students, and
refugee students) will result in fewer inappropriate referrals to special
Training Special Educators and ESL Educators. Special educators and ESL
educators need cross-over training to deliver integrated services that account
for children's second language and disability characteristics. Currently, a
paucity of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) programs
provide cross-over training in special education, and few special education
programs encourage specializations in TESOL. Professionals are left to find
their own training opportunities at conferences and workshops and from these
haphazard events to piece together the elements that formulate appropriate
practice. Responsive Special Education/TESOL teacher training programs would
create a well-formulated and comprehensive sequence of new course offerings that
would cover both the theoretical and practical issues in serving LEP students
Developing Materials. ESL materials must be developed for both mildly and
moderately/severely handicapped students. Some efforts have been made by
individual practitioners and school districts (Division of Special Education,
New York City Board of Education, 1985; Duran, 1985; Fairfax County Schools,
1986), but commercial publishers have been remiss in addressing this special
need. Diverse materials must be developed, teaching approaches and instructional
activities recommended, and feedback and reinforcement programs suggested.
Materials for oral language development and literacy development are needed as
well as materials that focus on the needs of the LEP hearing impaired, visually
impaired, learning disabled, mentally retarded, and emotionally disturbed child.
Trained personnel and appropriate materials are essential to unlocking the
potential of exceptional children for whom English is a second language, and to
insuring their fullest participation in society. Such participation is the
child's civil right, but cannot become a reality without effective educational
supports. Only the combined talents of ESL and special educators currently
charged with serving these special children will attain this goal.
Benavides, A. (1987). "High risk predictors and
prereferral screening for language for language minority students." (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 291 175).
Division of Special Education, New York City Board of Education (1984). "Day by day in English: An ESL-SEDAC daily living skills resource activities guide. Final edition and resource activities packet, final edition." Brooklyn, NY: New York City Board of Education, Office of Program Development. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 258434).
Duran, E. (1985). Teaching fundamental reading in context to severely
retarded and severely autistic adolescents of limited English proficiency. "Adolescence," 20, (78), 433-440.
Fairfax County Schools (1986). "Driver education. Supplemental lessons and activities for use with limited English proficient (LEP) students enrolledin ESL or special education classes." (ERIC Document Reproduction ServiceNo. ED 279 159).
Glass, R.M., Christiansen, J., and Christiansen, J.L. (1982). "Teachingexceptional students in the regular classroom." Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company.
National Coalition of Advocates for Students (1988). "New voices: Immigrant students in U.S. public schools." Boston: The National Coalition of Advocates for Students.
Nuttal, E.V., Landurand, P.M., and Goldman, P. (1984). A critical look at testing and evaluation from a cross-cultural perspective. In Chinn, P. (Ed.) "Education of culturally and linguistically different exceptional children." Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 256 103).
Ortiz, A.A., and Maldonado-Colon, E. (1986). Reducing inappropriate referrals of language minority students in special education. In Willig, A.C., and
Greenberg, H.F., (Eds.) "Bilingualism and learning disabilities: Policy and practice for teachers and administrators." New York: American Library Publishing Co., Inc.
Oxford-Carpenter, R. (1986). "A new taxonomy of second language learning strategies." Washington, D.C.: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, Center for Applied Linguistics.
Spolsky, B. (1988). Bridging the gap: A general theory of second language learning. "TESOL Quarterly," 22, (3), 377-396.
FOR FURTHER READING
Baca, L.M., and Cervantes, H.T. (1984). "The bilingual special education interface." St. Louis: Times Mirror/Mosby.
Dew, N. (Winter 1985). Delivering ESL instruction to handicapped LEP children. "Elementary ESOL Education News," 7, (2), 10.
Dew, N. (1983). Criteria for selecting instructional materials for CLDE students. "Learning Disability Quarterly," 6, (4), 497-505.
Cloud, N. (in press). Planning and implementing an English as a second language program. In Carrasquillo, A. and Baecher, R.E. (Eds.) "Teaching the bilingual special education student." Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
Plata, M. (1986). Instructional planning for limited English proficient students. "Journal of Instructional Psychology," 13, (1), 32-39.