Identifying and supporting EAL pupils with special educational needs

There are many studies on English language acquisition, and also on special educational needs (SEN), but less is known about how to help SEN pupils who speak English as a second language. It can be hard to identify these pupils and provide them with appropriate support, and sometimes SEN is mistaken for a lack of English knowledge, and vice versa.

To address these challenges in the US, a new review from the Institute of Education Sciences and REL West synthesises findings of current policy practices and research on identifying and helping pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) who also have special educational needs.

As part of the review, the authors examined 52 articles and reports published between 2000-2015 that met criteria for topic and study design (experimental or quasi-experimental), looking for patterns that occurred two or more times in the literature. They also looked for patterns in policy in the 20 US states with the largest EAL pupil populations. Their review uncovered the following information:

To determine if an EAL pupil has a special educational need, the authors suggest considering the following:

  • Quality of teaching;
  • Rate of progress in expressive and receptive language given English language baseline;
  • Native culture norms;
  • Adjustment to new culture; and
  • Other factors affecting academics, like socio-economic status, attitude toward English, personality etc.

Authors found that teachers do not always know why EAL pupils are not progressing, and that their referral processes are poorly designed. To address this they suggest:

  • Professional development;
  • Parental involvement;
  • Using data from many sources; and
  • Developing guidelines and ways to track pupil data.

Source: Identifying and Supporting English Learner Students with Learning Disabilities: Key Issues in the Literature and State Practice (2015), Institute of Education Sciences/REL West.

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