• ELL Students and Special Education

    Posted by Dr. Maria Ramirez on 3/6/2018 7:00:00 AM

    English Language Learners (ELL) are in the United States

    The English Language Learners (ELL) population is rapidly increasing in the United States. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2016) the percentage of school students in the United States who were ELLs was higher in school year 2014-15 (9.4 percent, or an estimated 4.6 million students) than in 2004-05 (9.1 percent, or an estimated 4.3 million students) and 2013-14 (9.3 percent, or an estimated 4.5 million students). Spanish was the home language of 3.7 million ELL students in 2014-15, representing 77.1 percent of all ELL students and 7.6 percent of all public K-12 students. Arabic, Chinese, and Vietnamese were the next most common home languages (spoken by approximately 109,000, 104,000, and 85,300 students, respectively).

    Language Proficiency

    Title VII of the Improving America's School Act of 1994 provides the following definition to identify limited English proficient students. An individual with limited English proficiency "is someone who has sufficient difficulty speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language, and whose difficulties may deny such individual the opportunity to learn successfully in classroom where the language instruction is in English" (Rhodes, Ochoa, & Ortiz, 2005, p.1).

    Most experts agree that it takes 5-7 years to acquire academic English, or the language proficiency needed to succeed academically and professionally.  Students may acquire social language (the language used on the playground or in the cafeteria) much more rapidly, but there is frequently a gap between social and academic English.  In addition, newcomer ELLs may go through what is known as a "silent period," in which they say very little but listen carefully to everything happening around them. Even though they are not speaking during this period, they are still in an important stage of language development (Roseberry-McKibbin and Brice, 2005).

    ELL and Special Education

    Newly released figures from the U.S. Department of Education's EDFacts data collection shed light on the population of ELLs who are also students with disabilities. In 2014-15, approximately 665,000 ELL students were also identified as students with disabilities. ELL students with disabilities represented 13.8 percent of the total ELL population enrolled in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools.

    Disproportionate Representation

    The disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education has been a controversial issue for more than 30 years. In the early 1970s, Diana v. State Board of Education (1970) and Larry P. v. Riles (1972) were two cases alleging the inappropriate placement of culturally and/or diverse children in special education programs. The impact of these two cases was so significant that Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act created in 1975, specifically required that students be assessed in their native language whenever feasible and in a non-discriminatory manner. Despite the history of litigation and legislation, disproportionate representation of linguistically diverse students in special education continues to be an issue to this day.

    Best Practices

    Identifying English language learners (ELL) with special needs is a complex and difficult process, because the difference between learning disabilities and second language acquisition can easily be mistaken for the other.
    As a result, ELLs could be identified incorrectly with a learning disability, or vice versa, their disabilities sometimes may not be recognized due to the language barrier. In either case, these students will not receive the specific services they need to succeed academically (Welner, 2006).

    Is the disability present in both languages?: One important clue is to see whether the disability is present only in English. If the student only shows the difficult behavior in English settings and not in his/her non-English language(s), then it cannot be an indicator of a disability. A true disability will manifest across all the child's languages and in most settings. If an ELL "struggles to retell events" in English and not in his/her home language or in a bilingual retelling, then this cannot be evidence of a disability. How does the student compare with his/her peers?: Another initial question to ask is whether the student is making academic progress at about the same rate as other ELL students from similar backgrounds (students who share similar linguistic, cultural, educational, or refugee experiences) and to compare that progress over time

    Research clearly indicates that many school psychologists are not trained to assess culturally and linguistically diverse students. Questionable assessment practices with ELL students include the use of untrained interpreters, insufficient or inadequate language proficiency testing, and intellectual and academic assessments conducted only in English.  When evaluating ELL, the assessment team must include a qualified person with language competence in oral and written skills in the child's primary language. In addition, tests and materials must be provided and administered in the student's primary language or other mode of communication unless the assessment plan specifies why this is not feasible. And finally, once the language acquisition and/or acculturation factors are ruled out as the primary basis of the problem, a determination must be made about the language in which the student will be assessed. Assessors should accumulate evidence acquired through interviews, student observation, and review of background information.


    Hamayan, E., Marler, B., Sanchez-Lopez, C., & Damico, J. (2013). Special education considerations for
    English language learners. Delivering a continuum of services (2nd ed.).

    Rhodes, R., Ochoa, S., & Ortiz, S. (2005). Assessing culturally and linguistically diverse students. A
    practical guide. Guilford Press.

    Roseberry-McKibbin, C., Brice, A., & O'Hanlon, L. (2005). Serving English language learners in public
    settings: A national survey. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools,36, 48-61.

    U.S. Department of Education (2016). National Center for Education Statistics.
    Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgf.asp.

    Welner, K. (2006). Legal Rights. The Overrepresentation of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
    Students in Special Education. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 6, (38).


    Dr. Maria Ramirez-Chase, Ph.D.

    School Psychologist 

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  • The Impact of Influence

    Posted by Lori Houston on 2/8/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend a convention in Chicago sponsored by the National Association of School Psychologists. The Keynote Speaker for the convention was Salome Thomas-El. Some of you may recognize his name, while many more of you may recognize him by his story.  He is best known for starting a chess club in an inner city school system with underprivileged children. His students became national champions, with many of them graduating from high school and even college at a time when most children from this area dropped out of high school.

    His speech was not about the chess club, rather he spoke about how to challenge students who face barriers/adversity to achieve, and succeed. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, you will most likely hear these words, “Every child deserves someone to be crazy about them.” His speech was so thought-provoking and empowering that I was compelled to purchase his book, The Immortality of Influence.   To date, it is my favorite book in my professional library. The premise of this book centers around influence and the power of influence by others who affect our lives, no matter how small that influence might be.  According to Thomas-El, influence comes in a variety of forms from various sources: adults, siblings, discipline, purpose, forgiveness, friendship, faith, etc. and the extreme power of parental influence, which can be positive or negative. Regarding young people, he feels “everything we do affects everything they do” and that as teachers or parents need to be aware of how powerful our relationships can be with them.

    One of the final chapters in the book is titled “The Power of Unrecognized Influence” and points out again that we as individuals influence others, even if we do not realize it and that we may never even realize how we influence others. Over the years, I have tried to impart Thomas-El’s philosophy to my interactions with students.  As I walk through the hallway of a school and encounter a lone student or two-three in a group, I try to make sure they receive a smile, a head nod or some other type of greeting.  I may compliment them on clothing, a hairstyle or anything else that might trigger a short conversation.  Throughout the years, especially at the secondary schools, administration has encouraged staff to be present in the halls during passing periods for supervision purposes and I have used this forum to greet students. It is interesting to see their reactions when they think I am going to reprimand them for something when instead a positive is given.  After hearing Thomas-El speak, it reaffirmed that I might be providing the only positive interaction the child has had that day and why it continues to be something I do to this day. Not only does influence come from speaking with students, but he believes we can influence people by the way we lead, dress and behave.

    Several months ago I received information from the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP) advertising their annual convention, which ironically was to be held again in Chicago. I registered for the convention and put the materials away as the convention was several months out. When the convention was nearing, I retrieved these materials and noticed that the theme of this year’s convention is “The Power of One: Creating Connections.”  The President’s Strands (presentations) reference that we all have the power to create connections with students, staff or parents in our daily work and the goal of these presentations is to highlight the importance of these connections. Although I cannot speak for Mr. Thomas-E,l I like to think he would be pleased to know that the information he presented in Chicago several years ago is still being discussed today as an important part of our daily interactions with young people and that “influence is truly immortal”.    


    Thomas-El, S. (2006). The Immortality of Influence. New York, NY: Dafina Books

    Lori Houston




    Lori L. Houston, MS
    School Psychologist

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  • The Pressure to Succeed

    Posted by Ashley Landrum on 1/12/2018 7:00:00 AM

    As a society, we tend to function under pressure to succeed, whether it entails winning the game, earning a promotion, or losing a few pounds. We revolve around the idea that we will experience true happiness if we have earned it, and therefore success = happiness. We might say to ourselves, “If only I had...if I only lost...if I only earned….THEN I will be happy”. While hard work should not be discredited, research shows us that contingent happiness is not truly happiness at all. We have it backwards.

    Positive psychology is a growing area of interest in the research community. Shawn Achors has completed large scale studies in this area. After spending twelve years at Harvard University conducting research among the student population, he has become one of the experts in the field of positive psychology as it relates to happiness and success. His findings? By always focusing on our next success, we are not experiencing true happiness. While conducting research with his student subjects, he found that although them had been at the top of their classes and experienced many successes, most experienced high rates of stress and depression.

    Achors’ research shows that being positive first and foremost leads to greater success next. Additional findings suggest that up to “75% of our job success is predicted not by intelligence, but by your optimism, social support network, and the ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way” (goodthinkinc.com). In other words, happiness will result in success because positivity allows our brains to become more energized, motivated, and resilient. By changing our way of thinking, we can truly impact our daily work in a positive manner.

    Achors presents seven key principles in his book, The Happiness Advantage, that allow us to begin taking steps toward changing our mindset and adopting a new view of happiness. He goes on to explain how we can adjust our mindset in ways to give us more power and control over the way we think about the world, how we can adopt a positive outlook, navigate our way out of negative events, regain control by focusing on small, manageable goals when our workload is overwhelming, and most importantly, invest in our social support network. These steps allow us to be the better version of ourselves while gaining more satisfaction out of every day.

    In summary, if you find yourself stuck in the mindset of “if only...then I will be happy”, I encourage you to stop and think about shifting your mindset. Research indicates that you will be a happier, healthier person if you do. We can all benefit from focusing on the process and our own attitude, instead of letting outcomes define our happiness. Author J. K. Rowling summarized this idea succinctly in her commencement address to Harvard students when she stated, “Happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement”.

    Ashley Landrum, Ed. S
    School Psychologist

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  • Playing Up Your (Cognitive) Strengths

    Posted by Rachelle Hinkle on 10/6/2017 7:00:00 AM

    If you’ve ever encountered an educational evaluation, you know that much of the content is centered around  assessing a student’s weaknesses, but little is usually discussed surrounding the child’s strengths. Teaching a child how to utilize their strengths can help them gain confidence and improve their use of coping with deficits. Of the sixteen cognitive abilities identified to date, there are nine that are commonly related to school success and are assessed on standard IQ tests. Let’s discuss a few and how to help your student to access their strengths.

    The two cognitive abilities most associated with school success are crystallized (or verbal) and fluid reasoning abilities. Verbal abilities are acquired through learning, but fluid reasoning skills are more difficult to learn and are more innate. When a student has strong verbal skills, “one understands and uses language well, has an average or better vocabulary, has good listening skills, and is able to use language well via verbal expression” (Flanagan, 2013). Examples of instructional strategies that work best for individuals with strong verbal skills include storytelling, brainstorming, journaling, and publishing/displaying written work. Fluid reasoning skills include how one makes correlations among concepts, draws inferences, and rearranges or transforms new information. Students with fluid reasoning strengths work well in small groups, need lots of breaks and time to think, and rely heavily on having real-world examples of concepts, samples of completed work, and colorful textbooks.  

    Two areas of sensory processing are vital to learning: visual and auditory. Visual processing is the ability to think about and analyze visual patterns and imagery that are important for success in advanced math, reading charts/graphs, and in printing or written work. Individuals with these strengths learn best by seeing, visualizing, drawing, and diagramming. Instructional practices that work best include using gestures and facial expression in lessons, having presentation slides and textbooks with plenty of images, creating flow charts and graphs, and encouraging students to underline, highlight, and draw symbols around text. Auditory processing, analyzing and synthesizing information are necessary for success in phonological awareness for early reading and writing development. Those with strong auditory processing skills remember what they hear and what they say.  They recall information they’ve read aloud, and excel at information presented in multimedia and music.

    There are two types of memory, and what you do with them: short-term memory/working memory, and long-term memory storage/retrieval.  Both of these are necessary for reading, writing, and mathematic success. Short-term memory is necessary for following directions, spelling, sounding out words, doing multi-step math problems, and understanding long reading passages. Without accuracy in short-term memory, long-term memory storage errors may occur. However, long-term memory retrieval is distinct and involves the ability to efficiently recall known information when necessary, the final demonstration that true learning has occurred.  An individual with strengths in long-term retrieval demonstrates the ease at which one recalls factual or visual information and can utilize flash cards, mnemonic devices and concept maps as study methods. Individuals with short-term memory strengths can handle a large amount of simple information, perform mental processes on it, and utilize it immediately, such as is used by successful librarians, day-traders, short-order cooks, and receptionists.

    Finally, processing speed involves the time it takes to perform a mental task. Those who can do so efficiently are less inclined to make mistakes when pressed to work quickly, though one can be taught to improve.  Video gamers understand this necessity well and those with strong processing speed often become very successful assembly line workers, typists, data entry specialists, and sorters.

    Rarely does one demonstrate a flat cognitive profile when assessed on all of these domains. Most often individuals have relative strengths and weaknesses, making them truly unique. Individualized education plans (IEPs) often focus on those lagging skills, or the deficits, but what makes for a real success story is when students can utilize their strengths to overcome their challenges.

    Rachelle Hinkle Rachelle Hinkle, School Psychologist

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