Identification of reading and language disabilities in Spanish-speaking English learners

Identification of reading and language disabilities in Spanish-speaking English learners

First Author: David Francis -- University of Houston
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kristi Santi; Shiva Khalaf; Raul Rojas; Ferenc Bunta
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Language minority children, i.e., those growing up exposed to a language other than the societal language, are not unique to the US or English-speaking societies. EL students are the fastest growing subgroup of students in U.S. public schools (Condition of Education, 2015) and are disproportionately at risk for poor academic outcomes. Nevertheless, the identification of disabilities among this group of students remains a challenge and is understudied from an empirical perspective. Although US federal law allows the use of identification and classification criteria for disabilities used with monolingual English students, there are few empirical investigations of the adequacy of these approaches, and no large-scale studies that consider how the performance of various criteria might be moderated by instructional contexts.
Method: We used data from two, large, longitudinal studies of Spanish-speaking English Learners to investigate the reliability and validity of IQ-Achievement Discrepancy and Low Achievement definitions of Reading and Language Disability. The combined dataset consists of 15,407 observations on 4,134 students seen from 1 to 6 times from the beginning of kindergarten to the end of second grade and assessed in both English and Spanish on phonological awareness, decoding, reading comprehension, and language proficiency using both standardized and narrative language production measures.
Results: Using criteria reflecting varying levels of severity we examined the concordance of identifications at each of six time points, both ignoring and controlling for language of instruction. We also examined concordance within language between low achievement and discrepancy definitions. Generally, concordance is greater in the spring than in the fall of a given grade year, and is improved when controlling for language of instruction.
Conclusion: Language of instruction is critical to valid identification of disabilities in EL students.