Date of Award


Culminating Project Type

Starred Paper

Degree Name

Special Education: M.S.


Special Education


School of Education

First Advisor

Bradley Kaffar

Second Advisor

Janet Salk

Third Advisor

James Robinson

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

differentiation, special education, language learners, assessment, referal process


Identifying how to best help a student learn and reach their goals is one of the most important tasks an educator needs to do each year. This is especially true as the number of language learners coming to American schools continues to rise each year. (Sullivan, 2011) The purpose of this study was to review the literature that examines how to differentiate between learners who struggle in acquiring English as a second language and English learners who have a learning disability. When distinguishing between ELLs and Special Education students, however, it is easy to make errors that negatively affect the student's education and ultimately their life. This is due to improper assessments, lack of professional training, and failure to apply the laws involved, which would help the process of identifying language learners versus special education students much easier. The author discusses current placement patterns for English learners, assessment factors that should be considered when referring and identifying English learners for special education services, and the recommended assessment practices for differentiating a disability from limited language proficiency. Since there are many language learners in our schools who are being miss-identified as special education students, it can be concluded that educators need more reliable language proficiency assessments, uniform differentiation practices and referral processes, and that how we determine eligibility for special education should be reviewed.



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