We are pleased to announce the release of a policy brief examining English learner students with disabilities in Oregon. Both practitioners and policymakers have raised concerns about this group of students, including whether ELs are over-represented in special education and how best to determine when ELs with disabilities have become proficient in English and no longer need EL services. In this brief we present results of a variety of analyses that compare likelihood of special education identification for English learners and other students.
For one of the three main analyses in the brief, we examine special education enrollment rates for Oregon students in 2013-14. As the lefthand panel of the graph above shows, nearly 40% of students classified as ELs in the middle school grades were in special education. This far exceeds the special education enrollment rate of approximately 15% for students never classified as ELs at this grade level (the Never EL group, shown in the righthand panel of the graph). However, as the middle and righthand panels of the graph illustrates, when we compare special education enrollment rates for all students ever classified as English learners (the Ever EL group) to rates for students never classified as ELs (the Never EL group), the rates are quite similar. As explained in more detail in the full brief, ELs with disabilities are much less likely to meet the criteria necessary to become considered proficient in English and exit EL services. Therefore, large proportions of students in middle and high school who remain classified as English learners qualify for special education. We discuss a variety of implications of our findings, including a need for more guidance on how to effectively determine when ELs with disabilities should exit EL services.