The Role of a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) and the Special Education Referral Process for English Learners

The Role of a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) and the Special Education Referral Process for English Learners

Claudia Cuellar Rinaldi, Maria deLourdes Serpa
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 38
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9043-0.ch004
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Multi-tiered system of support (MTSS2) is an instructional framework that supports bilingual English learners (B-ELs) with and without disabilities in both learning English as a second language and learning grade-level academic content. As populations change in the U.S. public schools and the achievement gap continues, the chapter presents how the MTSS2 framework is organized across tiers; the role of progress monitoring; and the cultural, linguistic, and research-based practices educators need to embed in the framework. MTSS2 also addresses inappropriate referrals of B-ELs for special education and related services. Recommendations include how to use research-based practices for B-ELs including culturally relevant practices, universal design for learning (UDL) principles, and English language support at each tier. The chapter ends with guidance on how MTSS2 can be used in the special education referral process for English learners with key recommendations that help disentangle language difference from language disability.
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Teachers in the U.S. serve nearly five million bilingual students with varying degrees of English proficiency (NCELA, 2021). In this chapter, this population of students will be referred to as emergent bilinguals1. Emergent bilinguals compose a diverse group of students with unique cultural and linguistic experiences, learning trajectories, and English language proficiency. This means that emergent bilinguals participate in language instruction education programs to be able to access the general education curriculum as well as to learn English. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2021), reported that from 2010 to 2018, the number of emergent bilinguals has grown from 9.2% to 10.6%. Although representation of emergent bilinguals varies by state, 42 states across the U.S. had continuous growth in numbers, and ten states have at least 10% of emergent bilinguals in the Pre-K-12 student population. The majority (78%) of emergent bilinguals are Hispanic, 11% are Asian, and 4% are identified as Black, and the majority are U.S. born. The national data also suggests the largest number of emergent bilinguals are in urban settings at the elementary level and experience poverty disproportionately. Today’s graduation rates for emergent bilinguals continue to hover at around 69% as compared to the national graduation rates for all students in the US at 86%. Of the overall number of emergent bilinguals students in the U.S., 14.7% also have a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (2004) (Irwin, Zhang, Wang, Hein, Wang, Roberts, York, Barmer, Bullock Mann, F., Dilig, R., & Parker, 2021). Emergent bilinguals with disabilities are served under the IDEA (2004) across the 13 areas of disabilities and are also served in a variety of language learning programs.

Emergent bilinguals are overrepresented in special education in the areas of communication disorders and specific learning disabilities (Cavazos & Ortiz, 2020, Fletcher and Navarette, 2011, Rogers-Adkinson & Rinaldi, 2017, Serpa, 2011). In some school districts in the U.S. emergent bilinguals are also underrepresented in certain categories (National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2020; Carnock & Silva, 2019: Project ELITE, Project ELLIPSES, & Project LEE, 2018). Some of the reasons for misrepresentation of emergent bilinguals include variations in addressing the needs of this population in teacher preparation, misconceptions and misunderstanding of the laws that protect this population, lack of delivery of both special education and second language services in schools, the lack of culturally relevant practices in general and special education, and inappropriate assessment practices in the special education referral process (Klingner & Eppolitto, 2014; Kangas, 2021; Park, 2019; Park, 2020; Rogers-Adkinson & Rinaldi, 2017) .

The concerns of over- and underrepresentation of emergent bilinguals in special education call attention to the opportunity gap and the need for school models and practices that address equity for this population (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2021). The opportunity gap refers to current school practices that attribute academic and behavioral problems of emergent bilinguals to deficits in cognitive and linguistic skills rather than existing structures and systems that place them at a disadvantage. Two examples are using standardized assessments that are not appropriately normed on emergent bilinguals and providing educational programming that does not support home language or bilingualism (Kangas, 2021). For example, due to this deficit perspective thinking, emergent bilinguals continue to be placed in the lowest academic classes where the focus is largely on behavior and not on rich and rigorous academic learning with opportunity for academic language development (Kangas, 2021). Another example is the overreliance on Structured English Immersion programs instead of bilingual education programs in schools. Structured English Immersion programs focus on the acquisition of English language skills to succeed in an English-only mainstream classroom most often at the expense of continued growth of bilingual language skills necessary in the 21st Century.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Criterion-Referenced Assessments: Refers to a process or test that evaluates the learning of students against a set of pre-specified qualities or criteria such as a set curriculum or some other grade level content standards, instead of comparing the students’ performance to the achievement of others done in Norm-referenced.

LRE: Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is the requirement in federal law since PL94-142 that students with disabilities receive their education, to the maximum extent appropriate, with nondisabled peers and that special education students are not removed from regular classes unless, even with supplemental aids and services, education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily [20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Sec. 1412(a)(5)(A); 34 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Sec. 300.114.].

FAPE: Is a statutory term since PL94-142 and is also included in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requiring a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified person with a disability with an IEP or a 504 plan who is in the school district's jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person's disability.

Emergent Bilinguals: Refers to bilingual English learners or emergent bilinguals who are in the process of acquiring language in both their home language and English to access the grade level standards.

Transitional Bilingual Programs: Refers to bilingual programs where emergent bilinguals have access to the home language while learning English as a new language. The goal of the program is primarily English.

Dual Language Bilingual Programs: Refers to bilingual programs where 50% of students are proficient in L1 language and 50% in English and where instruction is provided in both languages with the goal of preparing students who become biliterate and bilingual. The programs can be 90% content in L1/10% in English, 80% in L1 and 20% in English or 50% in L1 and 50% I English and a combination throughout the grades.

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