Special Education and ELLs

By Steven Gill and Ushani Nanayakkara

Here’s a commonsense phrase: Good teams working with good data make good decisions that lead to good school districts. But what happens when the numbers don’t add up, and the percentages you expect to see don’t match what is showing up in your data?

This is known as disproportionality, and it is occurring in school districts, especially within and across language and cultural groups. It especially has an effect on how English language learners (ELLs) qualify for special education services.

Take, for example, Washington’s Kent School District. The district’s special education data is similar to what you will find in other schools across the state and nation, especially as it relates to ELL students. If you took a cursory look at the statistics, you might be led to believe that disproportionality doesn’t exist. But it does.

What can be done? The district has started a process that we feel is identifying the core problems we face and will lead to improved teaching and learning for all students. We hope to outline some necessary steps so your district can do the same.

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