Middle School Teacher Perceptions of the Disproportionality of Hispanic English Language Learners in Special Education: A Qualitative Study

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In 2017–18, the number of learners ages 3–21 who received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was 7.0 million, or 14% of all public-school learners. Of that 7.0 million, 13% were Hispanic learners (NCES, 2019). Among ELLs with disabilities, nearly 50% had specific learning disability, and 21% with a disability were identified as having a speech or language impairment (USDOE, n.d.). School professionals erroneously refer ELLs to special education and once referred, the student has a greater than 50% chance of being identified as disabled (Becker & Deris, 2019). The purpose of this study is to understand how teacher perceptions and preparedness impact the referral rate of Hispanic ELLs into special education and related services. As the population of ELL/LEP/ESL increases, so does the number of possible incorrect referrals. This study was conducted through qualitative methodology, using targeted questions via questionnaire for middle-school teachers throughout New Jersey. The responses were used to determine patterns and themes of teacher experiences and perceptions in whether teachers feel they can distinguish between a language barrier and a learning disability. Findings indicated that teachers with less preparation and/or experience working with ELL/LEP/ESL students, special education students, or students with both a language barrier and a learning disability feel they are able to distinguish between a language barrier and a learning disability and would refer an ELL/LEP/ESL student to I&RS and/or Special Education regardless of legal disallowances.

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  • 02/02/2024
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