English Learners in the News

Sobson, Lorraine - Off the Shelf

I’m a bit of a news junkie, and watching the stream of stories flowing across my desk lately, I can’t help but notice an uptick in stories about English learners (ELs). If you read CEC’s weekly newsletter, Special Education Today, perhaps you’ve noticed the same thing.

In recent weeks we’ve seen stories about whether the EL designation helps or hurts students, about efforts to train school administrators in educational best practices for teaching ELs in Louisiana and California, and about a possible link between English proficiency and behavior.

And it’s no wonder. According to the U.S. Department of Education, ELs are the fastest growing segment of our nation’s student population. But as EL graduation rates and achievement have lagged behind their population growth, many educators, school systems, and policy makers have found themselves searching for ways to better serve these students.

Given this need, I was gratified when the Department recently released guidance to help educators better serve English learners, citing a need for qualified teachers who use “effective, research-based supports.” I was especially pleased to see the guidelines specifically address the needs of ELs with disabilities while also requiring states to hold schools and districts accountable for EL progress toward English proficiency.

This is good news for ELs! In more good news, the Department awarded $22 million in grants to institutions of higher education to support professional development activities aimed at improving instruction for ELs.

At CEC, we’ve been hard at work on this issue as well. In recent months, I’ve recorded two Research2Practice podcasts that focus on effective strategies for teaching ELs.

In the first podcast, I spoke with expert Cara Richards-Tutor about which reading interventions work best for ELs who are also struggling with literacy.

In the second, I spoke with researcher Jeanne Wanzek about how we can improve comprehension in social studies classes for students with disabilities who are and aren’t ELs.

Both of these scholars published articles on these topics in CEC’s journal, Exceptional Children. It was fascinating to hear more from them about their research and its implications for addressing the learning gaps experienced by ELs. You can find the original articles here and here.

If you’re looking for further resources on how to support ELs, I highly recommend CEC’s best-selling English Language Learners: Differentiating Between Language Acquisition and Learning Disabilities. This book describes the signs of learning disabilities and compares them to the typical characteristics of language acquisition to help educators get to the root of why a student who is learning English might struggle. If you work with ELs, I think this unique book is a must-have for understanding the needs of your students.

Another great resource that is popular with educators is Inclusive Assessment and Accountability: A Guide to Accommodations for Students With Diverse Needs. This book provides a step-by-step guide to help you select appropriate accommodations and alternative testing practices for all kinds of learners, including ELs.

Thanks for joining me for Off the Shelf! I’ll keep my ear to the ground for trends in special education news and the latest special education publications to keep you informed of the research-to-practice knowledge you need in your classroom.

Lorraine Sobson
Editor and Manager, CEC Professional Publications

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