Eligibility for Special Education in Elementary School: The Role of Diverse Language Experiences Purpose We examined the association between language experience and elementary students' eligibility for special education in Massachusetts. Method A secondary descriptive data analysis was conducted on the anonymized demographic data obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Third, 4th, and 5th grade students were categorized ... Research Article
Research Article  |   October 24, 2018
Eligibility for Special Education in Elementary School: The Role of Diverse Language Experiences
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Brianna L. Yamasaki
    Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle
  • Gigi Luk
    Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA
  • Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication. ×
  • Publisher Note: This article is part of the Clinical Forum: Dyslexia.
    Publisher Note: This article is part of the Clinical Forum: Dyslexia.×
  • Correspondence to Gigi Luk: gigi_luk@gse.harvard.edu
  • Editor-in-Chief: Shelley Gray
    Editor-in-Chief: Shelley Gray×
  • Editor: Tiffany Hogan
    Editor: Tiffany Hogan×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Clinical Forum: Dyslexia / Research Articles
Research Article   |   October 24, 2018
Eligibility for Special Education in Elementary School: The Role of Diverse Language Experiences
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, October 2018, Vol. 49, 889-901. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-DYSLC-18-0006
History: Received January 8, 2018 , Revised April 11, 2018 , Accepted May 7, 2018
 
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, October 2018, Vol. 49, 889-901. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-DYSLC-18-0006
History: Received January 8, 2018; Revised April 11, 2018; Accepted May 7, 2018

Purpose We examined the association between language experience and elementary students' eligibility for special education in Massachusetts.

Method A secondary descriptive data analysis was conducted on the anonymized demographic data obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Third, 4th, and 5th grade students were categorized into native English speakers, English-proficient bilinguals, and emerging bilinguals. Eligibility for free or reduced lunch was also considered. Proportions of students eligible for autism, communication disorders, and specific learning disabilities (including those with dyslexia) were calculated.

Results A strong association was observed between students' language background and whether they were eligible for free/reduced lunch. Children eligible for free/reduced lunch were more likely to be eligible for special education. Relative to native English speakers, English-proficient bilingual students were less likely to be considered eligible for special education. However, for emerging bilinguals, eligibility was lowest in 3rd grade and highest in 5th grade. This observation was most apparent in the category of specific learning disabilities.

Conclusions Students from diverse language and low-income backgrounds were disproportionately represented in special education. More substantial research–practice partnerships are warranted to understand how bilingual experience and socioeconomic status interact with eligibility for special education services in public school settings.

Acknowledgments
The writing of this article was supported in part by National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship and Spencer Foundation Grant 201700115 to G. Luk. We would like to thank Thomas Hehir for his guidance on this project.
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