Identifying and Meeting a Child’s Language Needs

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We adopted our son from another country three years ago. He is now nine years old, in the 3rd grade. He did not speak English when he arrived in this country.

Our child works very hard in school and we work with him at home. He continues to struggle to read, write, and communicate in English. His communication problems affect his relationships with his teacher and classmates.

“Although he is identified with learning disabilities, he was not accepted into the Learning Disabilities Resource Program. He is also labeled as an ‘ESOL student.’ How can we get the help he needs to be proficient in English?”

Children must be proficient in English before they can become proficient in other subjects. If your child can’t read, speak, or \understand English well, his IEP team must ensure that his language needs are identified and met.

Request an IEP meeting to share your concerns about your child’s limited English proficiency. The IEP team needs to conduct an assessment of English proficiency. This evaluation should assess your child’s skills in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding the English language. The evaluator should be fluent in your child’s native language.

If the English proficiency assessment shows that your child’s English is still very limited, the IEP Team needs to make decisions about several issues, including:

  • Does he need to receive instruction in English and/or in his native language so he can participate in the general curriculum?
  • Does he need tutoring in English as a service in his IEP to meet his individual needs? Should the special education and related services he needs be provided in his native language?
  • Does he need tutoring in English as a service in his IEP to meet his individual needs? Should the special education and related services he needs be provided in his native language?

If your child needs test accommodations that are allowed for general ed students with limited English proficiency (e.g. increased time, translating directions into the student’s native language, etc.), you need to ensure that these accommodations are written into his IEP.

Your Homework: Become an Expert in Limited English Proficiency

You need to become an expert on issues related to special education, learning disabilities, and limited English proficiency. You can begin by reading Considering a Student’s Limited English Proficiency in the IEP, an article and checklist about developing an IEP for a student with limited English proficiency.

Make several copies of the article to share with the IEP team members. The team members need to know that second language conversational skills are acquired in one to two years, but academic language proficiency is acquired over a longer period of time — generally in five to seven years.

Search the website of your State Dept of Ed – you can often find useful info on these sites.

  1. The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to notify parents of children with Limited English Proficiency about the child’s level of English proficiency, how the level was assessed, the child’s academic achievement levels, the methods being used to teach the child, how the program will help the child learn English, and when the child is expected to complete the program. 20 U.S.C. 6312(g)

    If your child has a disability, his IEP team makes decisions about how his language affects his needs for special education and related services. The IEP team must decide if his special ed will be provided in English or in his native language and if he needs tutoring in English in his IEP.

    You need a comprehensive evaluation of your child that clarifies his needs for specific language services.

  2. Please cite the law you reference in this statement, “If your child’s English is limited, the school must provide alternative language services to help him become proficient in English. He is entitled to all educational services provided by the school, including special education and related services.”
    I could really use it!!

  3. My 17 yr old adopted Ukrainian son was denied SLD eligibility due to “limited English proficiency,” although the neuropsych provided a Russian/English eval that indicated SLD in both languages. The LEA Director of sped unilaterally denied him services even tho he was told that his learning/language disorders are contributing to his inability to learn English. He came from an orphanage for LD kids and his teachers reported numerous struggles in reg ed 9th grade. Nonetheless, Director over-ruled team to deem him ineligible. Please advise.

  4. My daughter is in a Dual Immersion Program (Spanish). She has been fluent in Spanish since she has been able to talk. She has been tested in English by a Speech Pathologist and an Educational Psychologist and will be tested this week in Spanish in both areas.
    I want to know if the district will be required to give her services in Spanish since she is receiving 80% of her academic instruction in Spanish? It only makes sence to me however, I can not find a law or article anywhere that states that for me.

  5. I am an ESL/TESOL teacher. This lady’s son cannot be classifed as LD just because he is an English Language Learner (ELL). He shouldn’t have an IEP based soley on his classification as an ELL. Language issues need to be ruled out before he’s classified as LD or put in a special ed. classroom. Based upon his testing (in NY we use the LAB-R to test into ESL and the NYSESLAT to test out) he should qualify for an amount of time when he is specifically instructed in ESL. If he is getting this instruction, address your concerns to his ESL teacher. Educate yourselves about the complexity of learning English as a second language. How much formal schooling did he have before you adopted him? What’s his native language? Too often, in the past, ELLs were classified as LD because of their language deficits.

  6. I have an adopted child from another country at age 3 1/2. While she is coming along ok (age 6 this month), she still has many identifyable issues. She had only 1/2 hr./wk of speech last year (pre-school) and for pre-k only 15 min/wk. because the district didn’t feel she demonstrated need (even after her IEE said she should have at least 60 min./wk.) We are still not done with the situation, but it seems as if the system doesn’t get many foreign adopted children and does not know what to do with this speech issue. They just keep repeating ‘look how far she has come’, while she struggles with speaking clearly and doesn’t have much clue for ‘social rules’ (kids do not seem to feel comfortable with her) I wish there was a more effective way to educate the district in this matter.

  7. Is the child still fluent in his native language? When children are adopted from a foreign country, they can lose their first language prior to acquiring competence in their new language. They are, thus, not typical ESOL students, and their language needs are VERY complex. Make sure he is assessed by someone who is experienced in this very specific area, and not by a typical ESOL provider.

    If he still has his first language, and his first language is stronger than English, he should be tested in that language by someone who is fluent in that language and qualified to do appropriate testing, but it must be someone who understands that you are not his birth parents, and that you may not have the fluency in that language that his birth parents would have had. That makes for a very different profile from the typical ESOL student.

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