While this bias does not reflect the efforts of many
teachers who go to bat for LEP students, examples have also
shown how results of correctly or incorrectly administered
tests and the presence or absence of advocates can make or
break a student's career.
There are as yet no standardized instruments or federal
or state criteria to assess special needs of LEP students.
With a few exceptions, schools of education are not
training future teachers in both special education and
ESL instruction. Given the "paucity" of dual training, Nancy
Cloud of Rhode Island College notes in a study that
professionals are left to find their own training
opportunities at conferences and workshops and, from these
haphazard events, must piece together the elements that
formulate appropriate practice.
At George Mason University in Virginia, however, Eva
Thorp and her colleagues are charting a new path for teacher
preparation that addresses the complex needs of culturally,
linguistically and ability-diverse young children and their
The Unified Transformative Early Education Model (UTEEM),
which Thorp co-directs, offers teachers multiple licensure
in early childhood education, early childhood special
education, ESL and multicultural education.
The two-year graduate-level program fully integrates
coursework in language development, assessment of culturally
diverse student populations, family assessment and
curriculum development for diverse learners.
A series of four internships in daycare, pre-school and
school settings prepares future teachers to know the peoples
and cultures in their community. Going shopping with
families or gathering family stories (as opposed to a
clinical checklist) help graduates understand how families
make decisions, what their hopes and priorities are.
For instance, the better teachers understand their
students' various language exposure, students' level of
proficiency in the primary language and in English, and
their prior education experience, the more equipped are they
to distinguish between English language skill delay and
Bringing parents into the process is key to effective
service. But that can be challenging because of the power
differentials that exist between parents and school
authorities, especially if parents are recent immigrants or
lack formal education.
Recent immigrants may not be aware of their children's
rights. Further, undocumented parents may be reluctant to
step forward and demand special education services for their
Parents may not fully understand the nature of a child's
disability and the corresponding special educational needs.
Ana Avenzini, PEATC's outreach specialist, explains, "For
many in the Latino community, if they have a child with a
disability in their own country, they receive no assistance.
Under this frame of reference, they think the child will be
'put out' of school."
Andrea Ghetzler, a special education teacher and
administrator from Skokie, Ill., points out that some
cultures are more accepting of developmental disabilities
"In a lot of cultures," she says, "there is no such thing
as special education,... it's thought of as 'mental
If a student is thought to require special education
services, Ghetzler's first challenge is sometimes to
persuade parents to consent to assessment. In some cases,
parents fear that their child will be institutionalized and
prefer to ignore or hide the problem.
A significant part of the educator's or advocate's job,
then, consists of explaining the nature of special education
to parents and bridging cultural differences regarding
disabilities. It is a process that requires building trust
It takes a village — educators, school support personnel
such as psychologists and speech/language therapists,
policy-makers and parents working together — to fine-tune
special education and English-language support services for
It means developing appropriate assessment instruments,
consistent guidelines and integrative teacher training that
take into account students' linguistic, cultural diversity
as well as their general cognitive and learning development.
It takes commitment and resources — no less — so that no
student would be mislabeled or fall through the cracks.
Joe Parsons is an editor and writer from Illinois.