Many CA English learners classified as learning disabled

SchoolA new study of how English-learner students are taught in California raises profound questions about how seriously the state and many school districts take their responsibility to these students.

The study — prepared by researchers from Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the Los Angeles Unified School District — found that in seven small- and medium-sized districts it evaluated, two-thirds of English learners receiving special education are classified as having a “specific learning disability.” That’s more than double the rate for other students receiving special education.

This suggests that districts are failing to make a distinction between not being fluent in English and not having the full learning capacity of a normal child. The study says changes are needed “in both the current classification system for students learning English and in the provision of services for these students. Specifically, they indicate that EL classification is too blunt an instrument to capture accurately the diverse learning needs of students learning English, and that reclassification is elusive for many students, sometimes for problematic reasons. Our research also points to weaknesses in the provision of services for English learners, especially in terms of full access to core content and teachers’ level of preparedness to work with students acquiring English.”

For years, Gov. Jerry Brown has called the education of the 1.4 million English-learner students in state public schools the most important issue in California, given the need for these students to end up as productive members of a healthy economy. But the urgency with which Brown framed the issue hasn’t translated into actual efforts by the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education or most school districts to do a better job of evaluating these students and trying to maximize their education outcomes, the new research suggests.

Fixes to system not necessarily costly

Ed Source’s coverage of the study noted one of its most interesting points: Improving evaluations wouldn’t necessarily be all that costly:

The report also said that the initial English learner classification is overly broad and does not reflect home conditions, family education and wealth, which are predictive of how quickly an English learner will likely become proficient. The classification rates vary significantly among districts, the report said. It also noted “troubling achievement gaps among English learners of different linguistic and national origins,” with 90 percent English learners of Chinese origin in one district reclassified by middle school, compared to 65 percent of Hispanic English learners.


Citing the need to expand access to core academic instruction, bilingual instruction and better prepared teachers, the report concluded, “Changes along these lines would not necessarily require large new investments, but they could yield substantial benefits for large numbers of California students.”

But it’s unsure if these recommendations will prompt action by the governor, the Legislature or state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. All have faced criticism over the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula, a 2013 state law that was supposed to direct additional resources to educate English language learners. The Legislative Analyst’s Office reported in January that it did not find adequate safeguards for the use of the resources in any of the 50 state school districts it surveyed.

The new study’s formal title is “Improving the Opportunities and Outcomes of California’s Students Learning English.” A 16-page policy brief on its findings can be found here.


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  1. Dude
    Dude 28 October, 2015, 06:08

    Moonbeam thinks the most important thing is to educate the hordes of trespassers kids? No wonder this state is so screwed up.

    Reply this comment
  2. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 28 October, 2015, 07:37

    Yeah old Moonbeama total idiot back in the days when the Three R’s were not Reduce,Reuse,Recycle(They wrotea dumb song about it)and when kids were reading Dick & Jane not about Daddies Room Mate and Heather Has Two Mommies I can remember back when we were reading about the U.S. Constitution not about the fouding of the United Nations

    Reply this comment
    • Queeg
      Queeg 28 October, 2015, 09:53

      Comrade Spurned

      You only need twelve years of shop classes making wooden frames for attendance diplomas…..

      Reply this comment
  3. Leaving Soon
    Leaving Soon 28 October, 2015, 13:07

    Homeschooling my kid beginning this Fall and packing up and leaving Cali. There is no hope for my English speaking/high performing kid in the CA public school system. NONE.

    Reply this comment
    • Dude
      Dude 28 October, 2015, 13:18

      I put mine in a private Christian school. Best money I’ve ever spent. It was a guarantee the the wouldn’t be reading, “My Two Dads”, or “My Mommy Has A New Wife”. California is going to be uninhabitable in a very short time from now.

      Reply this comment
      • Leaving Soon
        Leaving Soon 28 October, 2015, 13:41

        DUDE – did that with my eldest and I couldn’t agree more – BEST money ever spent – EVER. Would do that again but have decided to leave. We have had enough. We are done. DONE. All we do now is just shut up and pay the taxes while we are called racist, etc. And it seems there is no end in sight and will get worse.

        Reply this comment
        • Ulysses Uhaul
          Ulysses Uhaul 28 October, 2015, 16:46

          Think of us for yur moving needs. We are certified doomer movers winning award after award….

          This month we throw in free maps printed in Belaus and packing twine from Nepal….

          Reply this comment
  4. Leaving Soon
    Leaving Soon 28 October, 2015, 17:29

    Ah, the snide remarks and the insults. Not surprising at all.

    Reply this comment
  5. Desmond
    Desmond 1 November, 2015, 17:13

    I am amazed at European tennis champions who will do press conferences in several languages. Some American athletes speak a form of English(and that is all the sounds they can form)that that is unintelligible to all except those in swollen tongued dialect. Funny thing, the Americans attended college. The tennis players turned pro right after high school.
    Have to think the odd noises will continue and borrow from 3rd world languages for more interesting sound bites.
    WTF did that guy just “say”?

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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