ELL Assessment for Linguistic Differences vs. Learning Disabilities
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Cultural and Linguistic Journey

Understanding the student’s experiences in his/her cultural and linguistic journey is essential to better understand his/her opportunities to learn standard English. The Linguistic History Profile is a tool developed by Serpa & Stokes, which provides a systematic way of collecting evident related to the student’s cultural and linguistic journey during the school years (3-21).

Background History: Linguistic & Cultural

When a child is experiencing difficulties, it is important to consider many factors. The student’s linguistic and cultural history data should be evaluated in addition to the ELL's background information. To gain an understanding of the student’s performance in English, the educator must consider the interrelationship between language 1 (L1) and language 2 (L2), the length of time the child has spoken each language and the child's level of literacy acquisition, as well as the opportunities or lack of opportunities to learn each language. The child's previous educational history must also be considered, given the language barrier factors that exist in certain instructional programs.

The Linguistic History Profile (© Serpa and Stokes 2000) provides a way to collect this linguistic history data. Understanding the linguistic history development of every ELL is an essential component in the process of determining the possibility of a linguistic difference or learning disability. For example, a miscue or error in English reading or writing that can be explained by characteristics of the student’s specific language or culture, presents a strong indication of a linguistic difference. This means that as the student becomes more and more proficient in English, it is likely that these behaviors will disappear. For example a child who already is a reader in L1 but is not proficient in English may sound like a struggling oral reader in English. However, when analyzing the reading miscues that can be explained by the native language characteristics, it is explained as a linguistic difference.

Linguistic history covers a child's history of schooling/program and grade placement, languages of instruction used and the length of instructional time. Above all, the length of instructional time in each language or lack of instruction in each language is important. When these factors are not taken into account, when (re)interpreting the academic assessment evidence (collected with a monolingual-English-only assessment of students who are not yet fully English proficient), the interpretations of the evidence are invalid, because this data may reflect low levels of English proficiency.

Therefore, the interpretation of assessment results for students who have been involved with academic English for less than five years (Cummins, 1981a) is merely a measure of English or lack of English proficiency and not of achievement.

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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