Ch 2_Challenge 7_Statistics_Infogram

Nationwide, English language learners (ELLs) made up 9% of all public school students but 12% of students identified with SLD in 2013–2014. When ELLs struggle with academics, it is often very challenging to discern whether the difficulties are due to second-language acquisition, a learning disability or both.

Many states lack clear policies as well as professionals with expertise in this area.23 Inconsistent practices contribute to overidentification in some states and underidentification in others.

For example, in Utah ELLs comprised 14.4% of students with SLD but only 5.7% of the overall student population in 2013–2014. There were three other states that year (ID, MT and VA) where the percentage of students who were identified with SLD who were ELLs was more than twice as high as the percentage of ELLs among the overall student population. ELLs were overrepresented by at least 50% in a dozen other states.24

In contrast, in New Jersey the percentage of students with SLD who were ELLs (2.2%) was half the state’s overall percentage of ELLs (4.5%).25

Overrepresentation suggests possible confusion between SLD and issues involving second-language acquisition. Underrepresentation may reflect a misunderstanding among educators that leads them to wait to identify students with SLD until after they no longer need English as a second language (ESL) services.

Clearer guidance is needed to help educators decide when to refer ELLs for special education evaluation and which services can address ELLs who also have SLD.