ELL Assessment for Linguistic Differences vs. Learning Disabilities
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Assessment of Portuguese-Language Students in U.S. Schools

ELL/CLD/ Bilingual students academic ‘errors’ or miscues in speaking, reading, writing or spelling, explained by their primary language’s influence on English, are to be expected. These miscues are developmental, and they do not constitute a learning problem or (dis)ability. They are an indication of a natural phenomenon of linguistic interaction between the primary and the second or the new language.

Serpa (2000)

Girl is writingAssessment is defined as the collection of data with a purpose and evaluation is making sense of the data collected in comparison with a criteria. In the case of ELLs suspected of having a disability the huge challenge is in evaluation. Why? Because many evaluators interpret the assessment data from second language speakers with native English speakers and that contributes to misevaluation of these student's performance during their learning of a second/new language. Please refer to Debora's video clip reading an English text and the research in second language acquistion.

When you are faced with the question: “Are the errors or miscues in speaking, reading or writing the result of a linguistic-cultural influence or are they an indication of a learning disability?”

The first step is to be familiar with the three kinds of laws that ensure a fair assessment-evaluation. Second is to ask yourself:

  • What do I already know about linguistically and culturally responsive assessment related to the Portuguese language and cultures?
  • What critical questions do I have about understanding my student’s language(s) and cultural needs?
  • What knowledge do I need to seek that supports my effectiveness as a nondiscriminatory teacher/assessor of these student's performance and ways of knowing?
  • Why do I need to be culturally and linguistically competent to evaluate an ELL student suspected of having a disability?

To begin to explore the answer to some of these questions, you are invited to link to STARTING POINT before initiating an intervention or a referral for eligibility assessment of an ELL/CLD student at the beginning, intermediate or even advanced level of English proficiency

Valid interpretation or (re)interpretation of the assessment data collected on a Portuguese-speaking student suspected of having a disability, you need to have general and language specic linguistic and cultural knowledge factors.

Linguistic Factors

General

  1. The main characteristics of the English language. Please refer to what teachers need to know about language
  2. The stages of second language acquisition and the levels of proficiency in English and Portuguese
  3. The difference between fluency and proficiency (BICS & CALP)
  4. Factors that influence second language acquisition
  5. Similarities and differences between second language acquisition and learning disabilities indicators.
  6. Research on program outcomes in Language Learning Education in the USA and in other countries.

Language Specific

  1. The main characteristics of Portuguese and how they differ from those of English:phonology, morphology,semantics, syntax and pragamatics.
  2. What linguistic influences from Portuguese are predictable in English reading, writing and spelling?

Cultural Factors

General

  1. Knowledge about cultural diversity and culturally responsive pedagogy (or lack of it).
  2. Understanding about the influence of culture in teaching and learning.
  3. Knowledge about each student's country and culture(s) of origin including values, ways of knowing, schooling,religion and health practices.
  4. Knowledge about the acculturation process for students including stages of acculturation and cultural identification.
Student Specific
  1. Knowledge about the studentís family cultural background (e.g. values, beliefs, child-rearing practices and behaviors), how similar or how different it is from U. S. majority culture and implications for culturally responsive pedagogy
  2. The influence of Cultures in the student's cultural identity and self esteem
  3. The influence of each student' s culture on performance in learning and motivation
  4. other

To be able to explore the distinction between linguistic differences and learning disabilities, many educators need to enrich their professional knowledge with an upgrade in diversity education, which focuses on cultural and linguistically specific information (Wilson-Portuondo, 2004).

NOTE: Portuguese-speaking students come from a diversity of countries and academic backgrounds. This site only focuses on those that come from Brazil & Portugal including the Azores and Madeira.

 
©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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