How do Bilingual/Multilingual English Learners in Schools fare by State? Take a Look

Today, I was reminded of this report that came out in 2017 by NPR.  The report provides a summary of who are multilingual/bilingual English learners in our education system, what kind of programs they received education and how they fare compared to all students in the graduation rates.  Here are a few highlights and then please click on the link below to read more.

  • 1 in 10 students across the US and multi-lingual/bilingual English learners (about 5 million students)
  • Spanish is the most commonly spoken language but students speak hundreds of other languages as well (see map), followed by Chinese, Vietnamese, & Arabic
  • Most multi-lingual/bilingual learners are born in the US.  From Pre-k-5 (85%) and 6th through 12th grade (62%)
  • The state with the most multi-lingual/bilingual learners in California (29% of the student population) followed by Texas (18%), Florida (5%), and New York (4%)
  • States with the largest growth of multi-lingual/bilingual learners– Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina
  • Most multi-lingual/bilingual learners struggle regardless of which state they go because ELL programs provide low expectations for students due to their low quality.
  • Three main programs are ESL, Transitional Bilingual and Dual Language/Immersion
  • Outcomes in terms of graduation indicate that in only one state those multi-lingual / bilingual learners outperformed all students– West Virginia.  In all other states, there were significant gaps in graduation rates for all multi-lingual / bilingual learner
  • On average across the US, only 63% of multi-lingual / bilingual English learners graduate from high school as compared to 82% of all other students.
  • In 2016, 32/50 states reported not having enough teachers for multi-lingual / bilingual English learners
  • Only 2% of multi-lingual / bilingual English learners are enrolled in all gifted programs compared to 7.3% of the rest of the populations

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Professional Organization is Now Free!

Good morning colleagues,

Yesterday the International Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) professional Organization granted access to their basic membership resources to all educators for free.
CEC is opening its doors to the special education community in need of resources. Please share with Colleagues. Nonmembers of CEC can receive a free basic membership from now through May 31 by using the promotional code “CECED60.” This will give you access to all of CEC’s journal articles, member discounts on events, and access to CEC’s online membership community where you can ask questions and receive support from special educators, administrators and support personnel. Join Now!

Their practitioner journal is a great resource published 6 times per year.  The latest issues includes:

  1. Exploring if and how a Practice Works in Authentic Settings
  2. Top 10 Tips for New Special Educators
  3. Practical Components for Getting the Most From a Token Economy
  4. Building Collaborative Relationships with Parents
  5. An Update Primer of Special Education Law
  6. Assistive Technology for Writing: Technology-Based Graphic Organizers with Embedded Supports
  7. CEC, DLD, and CASE Support New Resources to Evaluate Students for Specific Learning Disabilities

They also have a call for proposals for the 2021 national conference!


Don’t forget to get those proposals ready:

The call for proposals for CEC in Baltimore 2021 is open. It closes April 30.

Here is the link.


New report from the Council for Great City Schools on the State of English Learners from their member district.

This is a brand new report from the Council for Great City Schools (CGCS).  CGCS is an organization that support 75 of the largest school districts across the nation including Boston Public Schools and Miami-Dade Public Schools.  This report is a follow-up from their 2013 report.  The findings are similar:

  1.  English learners are the fastest-growing populations in our large public schools.
  2.  Most responding districts had more than 10 percent of their ELLs classified as Long-Term ELLs
  3. More districts are improving their special education eligibility rates of English learners  to non-English learners
  4. 29 district included metrics of English language instruction for all teachers as part of the teacher evaluation
  5. Districts reported an increase in professional development offerings in SLIFE, Engish learners with Special education needs, high-quality evidenced-based ELL strategies
  6. Most common languages –92.4 percent of English Learners speak Spanish (87% -3.7 million students), Arabic (1.8%-7,687 students and fastest-growing language), Chinese (1.6% -20,987 student in the member districts), Haitian Creole (1.25% or 18,935 students in the member districts), or Vietnamese (0.89% or 12,294 students in the member districts) and Somali 6,110 students in the member districts.


English Learners with Disabilities referral rates dropped to match non-ell referral rates based on the ratio analysis.  What does this mean?  Are educators referring students more accurately?  Are special education processes better?  We don’t know and from what I hear there is are still very poor practices still happening including not including native language assessment, requiring teachers to wait before referring English learners for special education, an many more.   The impact of this report on this section is critical for CGCS and researchers to explore further why this occurred, how it is being monitored, what is the outcome in those same years of English Learners in those districts, what does the guidance in those districts look like, how are they enforced and most importantly what are teachers doing to ensure they know the language learning laws, special education laws, and ESSA requirements. There are pockets of excellence but I fear that there are just unspoken rules being applied that is now impacting long term outcomes for English learners in general and growing overidentification making special education the service for many.  This is especially troublesome as the outcome for students with disability is dismal.  As the CGCS results posit continued challenges with underrepresentation and overrepresentation happening through the largest 75 of the largest public school districts.

If you are ready to read this report please note that it will take many conversations with colleagues to try and understand all the statistics but please don’t give up.   There is a lot more information here than the short summary I posted.

What are your thoughts?

Conceptualizing a graduate certificate program in Teaching Bilingual English Learners with Disabilities

Graduate programs today are starting to look very different.  In fact, there is a growing effort on encouraging teachers to seek the professional development that they need, to build professional networks by social media, and to still complete traditional master of education programs.  What is real is that as professionals we need to continue to learn about the latest research, evidence-based practices and other instructional approaches that help us address the changing demographics in our schools and classrooms.   We need to engage in an ongoing cycle of teaching and learning.

Last week my colleagues and I presented at the National Bilingual Education Association conference in Orlando, FL.  The title of our presentation was the Conceptualization of a Graduate Certificate on Teaching Bilingual English Learners with Disabilities.  My colleagues Diana Morales, district leader and lecturer, Joni Magee, former district administrators, teacher, and state leader, and myself presented the program we have developed at Lasell College.

We investigated the most effective professional development practices within the teacher preparation programs and created four courses fully online that address bilingual special education.  The program includes content-focus, active learning, coherence and duration on the topic, active participation, and application based on need at school sites. Our program is focused on building the background knowledge for educators working with Bilingual English Learners and giving them the tools for them to advocate for better practices like collaboration, MTSS, co-teaching, progress monitoring and truly embedded culturally responsive pedagogy.  The products and outcomes are focused on change in their schools.  This means that the classroom products may be developing a new way to track data in their schools, or creating a case study using a student IEP to show how you can address language and academic goals.

The presentation was our way to give back to the community of education professionals who are asking for more strategies to address the needs of bilingual students with and without disabilities.  Let me know if you would like to see more information on our session.

Featured at the International Council for Exceptional Children 2019 Conference: Strand of Culturally Responsive Assessment for Bilingual English Learners

Strand of Culturally Responsive Assessment for Bilingual English Learners

Last week esteemed colleague leaders in this field collaborated to run the 3.5-hour strand on the topic.  The strand started with m presentation on the current state and practices on teachers working with bilingual English learners and why every educator needs to learn more.  For example, did you know that bilingual English learners are 3.5 times more likely to be referred to special education?  Did you also know that some districts establish a “wait to refer” rule which violates current education law while other districts encourage referral to special education in order to increase services (also a poor practice that can increase the percentage of English learners in special education.  We had five leaders presenting and here are there summaries:

Dr. Julie Esparza Brown highlighted the need to compare the progress in English and academics with that of a “true peer” rather than comparing bilingual English Learners to average English only students. Her presentation showcase two case studies to show which one would be the one to correctly refer for special education and which one tells us whether core /general instruction is actually providing access to all students, including bilingual English learners.

I also presented my Special Education Referral Evaluation Checklist for English Learners to help educators ensure that educators and SEAs check key aspects of the pre-referral and referral process to make sure the right bilingual students are referred to special education.

Please visit the PADLET to see everyone’s presentations and resources.

Made with Padlet

My most recent article online “Helping English Language Learners Succeed with a Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS)” in

I am excited to share that I just had the opportunity to have one of my practitioner-based articles published in a great teacher website called

From their website, Colorín Colorado is the premier national website serving educators and families of English language learners (ELLs) in Grades PreK-12. Colorín Colorado has been providing free research-based information, activities, and advice to parents, schools, and communities around the country for more than a decade. Colorín Colorado is an educational service of WETA, the flagship public broadcasting station in the nation’s capital, and receives major funding from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.

In this article, I was able to share research-based and teacher used guidance on how to help bilingual English learners succeed in schools Implementing a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) . 

The article provides an introduction to the Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework and what MTSS means for English language learners (ELLs). I also explain how the relationship between MTSS and Response-to-Intervention (RTI) and includes guidelines for identifying effective interventions for ELLs who need extra support.  I also provide forms that can support the implementation of Tier 1, 2, and 3, and explain how to use cycles of progress monitoring to ensure you can review all students in interventions.  In addition, the Colorín Colorado added links to their other great content that includes videos with experts and other examples.

Please let me know your feedback.

Looking for Professional Development Presentation for Supporting English Learners with Disabilities?

Teacher and administrators continue to have challenges in the identification of Bilingual English Learners with Disabilities. There are now more resources being cited in state education agency pages.  I wanted to update a few here:

  1.  Council for Chief School State Officers (CCSSO)- English Learners with Disabilities Guide 
    • This guide provides a great summary at the state level of how to support bilingual ELs, the role of states, districts, and schools.  It highlights 3 states with links to their forms and resources.  The guide was developed by CCSSO and advice by many researchers in the field including me
  2.  A new book by Haas and Brown (2019) called Supporting English Learners in the Classroom: Best Practices for Distinguishing Language Acquisition from Learning Disabilities from Teachers Press.  Julie has done an amazing job of making the content accessible for teachers with practical ways to understand it and next steps for practice.


Are you curious about Lawyers that work in Education Law? The following list begins from birth to 21 and each can help with referrals

As parents we may not know where to begin to get help when the education laws are broken or violated.  Whether it is an IEP that is not followed, a teacher who can’t get support from a district or medical malpractice that results in children needing special education services, there are many lawyers who can help guide you.

Wrightslaw is a  leading online legal advice website that focuses on education law.  Their mission is to disseminate legal information about the rights of students.  See their website  There story is amazing and their mission even more.  Wrightslaw began on November 9, 1993, when The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on Shannon Carter’s behalf in Florence County v. Shannon Carter.  To learn more, read Three Generations at the Supreme Court and The Untold Story. Pete Wright is an attorney who represents children with special educational needs. Pete struggled with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADHD. His determination to help children grew out of his own educational experiences. Pam Wright is a psychotherapist who has worked with children and families since the 1970’s. Her training and experience in clinical psychology and clinical social work give her a unique perspective on parent-child-school dynamics, problems, and solutions. Pam has written extensively about raising, educating, and advocating for children with disabilities.

For younger children and birth complications another great resource for legal support is Reiter and Walsh.  See below their information:  The attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers focus on birth injury/newborn medical malpractice cases. Because our clients have permanent disabilities stemming from malpractice, we work tirelessly to help them obtain the funding that they need for lifelong care, therapy, special education programs, etc. Our goal is to allow our clients to focus on maximizing their children’s health, function, and quality of life without constantly worrying about money. Clients pay us nothing unless we win their case.  For more information, you can contact us by calling 866-558-1595, or by filling out a contact form here:

For dispute resolution in special education another great group providing advocacy and expert advise is SpedEx. SpedEd is an innovative dispute-resolution pilot project, launched and funded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as a pilot
project. SpedEx grew out of Special Education Day discussions representing
stakeholders from across the state over the past few years. It represents the combined
efforts of the DESE, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA), the Special
Education Day Committee (SPEDCO), and the SpedEx Planning Committee. DESE is
funding certain SpedEx pilot activities for four (4) years.   See link here 

If you want to see if you can submit your case please visit this page



Did you child struggle academically last year in school? How can you get started on a better place this year?

We have a third grader who we have been helping a lot with tutoring? How do I ensure a better school year?

Third grade is a big year where children begin the transition from learning to read (decode) to reading to learn (more comprehension and more content areas). I would recommend looking at these two options to ensure that your child gets additional support within general education if she doesn’t meet the criteria for a Section 504 Plan or an IEP.

Option1 Every public school in the US is beginning to implement a framework that provides support for all students using three tiers of support. The framework is called a Multi-Tiered System of Support or MTSS. In MTSS, the school guarantees that all students received access to the general education curriculum or Tier1, and then identifies ways to preventively identify students who will need additional instructional support. They often identify the students who need additional support by giving quick assessments called curriculum-based measurements (CBMs) in reading and math to identify which students are at-risk for not performing at grade level. These assessments are given to all students, in the beginning, middle, and end of the year to know if students are at grade-level or at-risk for not being at grade level. When a student is flagged for being at-risk like your third grader, the school provides ADDITIONAL, also known as Tier 2 strategic support in the area of need (e.g., reading or math or both). Tier 2 intervention has to be done outside of the general instruction in reading and math since it has to be additional. This additional intervention is provided in a small group of 4-6 students at least 3-times a week generally. The teacher must measure progress monthly and decide whether the students stay in the same level of support, no longer needs the support or need more intensive supports. If the student is not responding to both the general education and additional Tier 2 support, the school would provide Tier 3 support which again would be additional to the general curriculum, or Tier 1, PLUS Tier 2 small group instruction AND now Tier 3 individual or one teacher to three students intensive support. The teachers providing the Tier 3 support ensures that progress is measured weekly. If the child is still not making progress, the teacher may decide to refer the student for special education evaluation to see if the student meets the criteria for special education services including an IEP.

Knowing this; I recommend that you meet with the school principal and teachers and ask the following questions:
1. Does your school implement MTSS?
2. How did my child do at the beginning of the year universal screening in reading and math? Is he/she at-risk for not being at-grade level? Can you share the results with me?
3. If my child came out at-risk for not being at grade level, is my child receiving Tier 2 intervention?
4. Is the Tier 2 intervention in addition to their participation in the general education classrooms, in other words, is my child taken out for Tier 2 during reading and math or is it additional time where he/she gets support in a small group? How often and for how long is each section?
a. Can I see the progress my child is made since you have been doing Tier 2 additional support? Is it working?
5. If my child is taken out during the general education instruction how are you ensuring that my child gets access to the general curriculum and not just supplementary or additional help learning to do math or reading?
6. How can we change his/her schedule so that this support is outside of this time? Perhaps during another period?
7. If the support/intervention is not working is my child not also receiving Tier 3 support in groups of 1 to 1 or 1 to 3 with a teachers specialized in teaching reading or math?
a. Is his/her progress measured weekly?
b. Can I see how he/she is making progress towards grade level?
c. When and for how long is this happening during the week?
8. If your school is not doing MTSS, how do you provide additional help for students? How do you select students? Do you know or need support for doing MTSS in your school? Please visits (provide a link)

Option 2. If you are concerned that the school is not doing MTSS or that the support won’t help your child, ask the principal or guidance counselor to get your child evaluated for special education needs again; you can do this at any time even yearly. You can also choose to have your child evaluated by a neuroeducational psychologist for a comprehensive educational evaluation. This evaluation will be much more in-depth than what the school process for special education evaluation includes. When the evaluation is completed, bring the results and recommendations from the professional to the school. It would be ideal if that professional can come with you to a meeting at the school to explain and advocate for you and your child’s behalf. The best way to get a recommendation for a neuroeducation psychologist is to consult with your pediatrician or family physician. If they don’t know of anyone, contact your nearest university or hospital and ask for a referral.

I hope these two options provide a place to start during this academic year. Please keep in place the current support for your child if you can until other supports are in place.

My child is bilingual and has dyslexia. I am getting conflicted information about helping him to read- help me please!


I recently received this email.  I edited the names and some details to address confidentiality.  See response below.

My daughter needs to success successfully and she is having reading difficulties.  Maria is a 9-year-old multi lingual (Spanish) 4th-grader.  She was evaluated in 2nd grade and 3rd grade at school and was identified with a learning disability.  We also had a neurodevelopmental psychologist evaluate her outside of school and she diagnosed dyslexia. Maria is behind grade level and needs help with reading and math

I was told to have her learn one system of reading versus another but the school suggested that I only stick to the one used by the school.  I am very worried because of the summer between 1st to 2nd grade, Maria’s reading level dropped after participating in the summer reading program at school. 

How do I go about finding amazing teachers specialized with her learning challenges and experience with multi language students that may be able to help?  

How can I find out what learning system is best for her?

I am so sorry to hear that your daughter reading skills decreased with the summer program.  I have several questions and some recommendations.   I also want to let you know that there is not one program over another reading program that will address dyslexia for every child.  Because of this, the are hundreds of readings programs that approach teaching reading in a variety of ways and different scope and sequences in the introduction of letters and sounds.  I would also like to highlight that for bilingual learners, Spanish in particular or other romance languages, learning to read is similar in that about 40% of the words have a cognate in English (eg. importante — important) but reading may be taught differently.  For example, teaching reading in Spanish is taught by using syllables that connect to each other to create words and all vowels have just 1 sound, while in English we focus on letter and sounds independently connected and there are 14 vowel sounds represented in the 5 vowels.  Below is my answer to this mother:

  1. Is your child taken out during the regular reading/ELA class in school to received special education supports under a learning disability?  If so, the first thing you need to do is to request a change that so that she receives the general education instruction and then supplemental support in special education.  Taking the child of the richness of the general education curriculum will impact peer learning, vocabulary, and comprehension practice.  The National Reading Panel is clear in establishing evidence that students must be taught all five areas of reading: phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The National Literacy Panel supported this view and added oral language development– a critical component for students learning English as well.  As a result, if a child is taken out of the general curriculum to get specialized services for decoding or phonemic awareness they are missing on the other components of reading instruction and this will set them back even further.
  2. Is the school implementing a Multi-tier system of Support (MTSS or RTI)?  If so, she should also be receiving General education ELA (also known as Tier 1), Tier 2 strategic intervention in a small group instruction with like peers, and Tier 3 intensive intervention which more likely be the special education supports.  The school must guarantee access to the general curriculum or Tier 1 so please ensure that before all.
  3. Although it makes sense that you don’t introduce different programs not provided in school, you want to make sure the intervention is evidenced-based such as Lindamood Bell Learning Process (not very common across public schools) or a kinesthetic or hands on program like Orton Gillingham Reading.  These programs are in English.  If the school can provide intervention in Spanish and English, consider requesting interventions in both as learning to read in Spanish is by syllables and learning to read in English is by sounds/letters.  Here is a review of many other evidenced-based reading programs that the school may be using  (you can look by grade level and subject)
  4. I would also recommend that the teachers complete a curriculum-based measurement (CBM) check or progress monitoring check or oral reading probe (ORF) (all the same thing) weekly to show the ongoing growth.  They should share the results with you weekly so that you and your child can also keep track.  Basically, this assessment counts the number of letters, phonemes, or words read correctly in the text she is provided.  All children grow on average (give and take – 1 word per week with general education) you want to make sure that she is increasing more than that and chart it with her so that she sees the growth and feels successful.  Since she is receiving intervention/special education you would expect larger growth per week.  You can also do this at home.  Here is a good video and from there you can see much more –
  5. I would also recommend that you consider reading at least 7-10 minutes in whatever language, Spanish preferably, every day.  Pick or consider books that would be easy for her and that she likes.  Start by reading to her using your fingers to follow the words, then ask her to read together with you and then have her try it by herself and give lots of positive reinforcement.  Use a timer.  If she misses any words you can put them in index cards and practice them a few minutes after or in the car or during bath time, etc.

These are some starting steps to bring to your IEP team or teachers.