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This special field memo recognizes the over-identification of English Language Learners (ELLs) as students with disabilities when compared to the general population. Specifically they are more likely to be identified as having a speech and language disability. As a result, assessments must be used in ways that are considered valid and reliable. Assessments used to determine disability must be tests of the child’s need for special education services, not assessments of English language development. Before a disability determination can be made, the student should received tiered supports through a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework. Data obtained during the RTI process will be used to support disability determination. Regarding standard scores, they should not be used if the normative sample for the test is not representative of the student’s cultural and linguistic background. Where standardized tests are not available because they do not meet appropriate levels of validity and discriminant accuracy, qualitative information should be gathered during the assessment process. This information should be examined using clinical judgment and a qualitative analysis of the students strengths should be presented to support disability determination.

It is important to note that this field memo uses the same definition of ELLs as federal law in IDEA 9101(25). This includes students who come from any type of home environment where English proficiency may be affected due to other languages or dialects being spoken, including when spoken in combination with English. In addition, this memo also applies to culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) populations, not only students that speak another language. For example, students from different socio-economic status as well as students who speak a dialect of English would also be included under these guidelines.