ntsAn Assessment of Learning Disabled Bilingual Students
When speaking of the learning disabled, bilingual student, one must consider some dimensions to the issue of assessment within a particularly specialized light. This special population reflects both the learning disabled (LD) and the bilingual student. For purposes of this discussion, it is presumed that most all members of this specialized segment are Hispanic. This is largely the case within a practical context, although as the literature points out, pre-considerations must be afforded for bilingual education (students) as well as those members of the Hispanic community who reflect a variety of backgrounds, including Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, etc. To this extent, it is the view of this author that the challenges for the bilingual, learning disabled, and special education educator are particularly complex. To begin with, it is important to look at the many variables that exist within the aforementioned components. These components include English as a Second Language (ESL), the extent to which Hispanic students speak English at home, the extent to which Spanish speaking students speak Spanish at home, the extent to which parents are involved or assume an active role in this overall effort, and finally the impact this has on teaching the learning disabled in a classroom setting and more specifically when employing the assistance of a translator. It is the view of this author that, too often, curriculum-based assessment is hampered with some biases, to which extent it is the aim of this author to address some of these. David P. Dolson (1985) offers us some insight into the importance of these relationships, stating that the most essential factor between academic achievement and scholastic performance on the part of the Hispanic child is directly related to the effect of Spanish home language. He challenges an assumption by many educators that Hispanic students from Spanish language homes do less well in schools than Hispanic students from primarily English speaking homes. The direction of the difference on each of ten scholastic variables indicates that students from additive bilingual homes have a conspicuous advantage when compared to counterparts from subtractive bilingual homes. The importance of this finding is highlighted to a number of conclusions, which may be constructed on the basis of the data made available (1985). Based upon personal and practical experience, it has been the observations of this author that definitive controversy and even disagreement exists and is centered around various approaches to the academic advancement of the learning disabled, bilingual student. It is also the opinion of this author that a translator is particularly purposeful and, in fact, indispensable. In many cases throughout our current school system, s/he is realized in the form of the teacher who is also bilingual. As indicated, disagreements or risks revolve around that which has to do with a greater emphasis on Spanish grammar and related biases. These arguments are often seen amongst parents, principals and teachers. One practical example of this is that, at times, parents have expressed their desire for letter grades (A-F), while principals and teachers prefer at-, above-, or below- grade level marks along with effort grades of outstanding, satisfactory, or unsatisfactory. Invariably, schools have won out, yet the question persists as to how much influence parents have when it comes to determining the effectiveness of bilingual education and English language proficiency in special education. In terms of the role of the translator, this role has been largely assumed by educators and, to a lesser extent, parents and other community members. These may include advisors, decision-makers, etc. who work on a voluntary basis in the schools. Yet, amongst them there exists many points of disagreement, albeit it is the expectation of this author to point out both the areas of agreement as well as disagreement. For example, middle-class schools have established a much better partnership with the parents than had the working-class schools. The role of a translator cannot be minimized, and it is the view of this author that parental involvement is both beneficial as well as may be used to promote an educational program reflecting essential parental involvement. The more the parents know, the more they can participate in the learning disabled, bilingual child’s education. Another study dealing precisely with the effects of Spanish home language and the academic performance of Hispanics included the relationship between academic achievement, language development and psychosocial adjustment of children. These children in question spoke Spanish in the home. (Imhoff, 1990) Assessment, as indicated at the outset of this research paper, is in point of fact a complex term with a variety of meanings for different individuals, i.e. professionals and non-professionals alike including principals, teachers, volunteers, parents, advisors, translators and assistants. Even the law has had difficulty in establishing the meaning of the learning disabled child, and Public Law 94-142 addresses the learning disabled, bilingual student mandating the development of an individualized educational plan for school-age children with special needs. Under the auspices of this law, both children who are commonly termed “learning disabled” are provided with specialized curricula and teachers to assist them in overcoming whatever obstacles impede their ability to learn whether this obstacle be a hearing impairment, hyperactivity, dyslexia, ADD, etc. At any rate, it can be seen that both Public Law 94-142 and the Bilingual Act of 1970 have provided legislative protection, commitment and funding to the larger set of students under consideration. However, what kind of legislation protection and funding is viable for the bilingual child with a learning disability? In other words, under what classification scheme does such a child fall; who attends to his/her needs; and how are these needs best met? This is the crux of the problem, and our common sense and some of the students whom this author has accounted in the classroom indicate that there are children who have both types of “handicaps” a learning disability and a language disability. Yet, there is a paucity of data on such children. Part of this is due to our inability to clearly differentiate doubly disabled students from the larger, single-disability groups.
In fact, no guidelines have been established that would enable educators to arrive at a consensus identification of a bilingual, learning-disabled student. According to Langdon (1983), with the exception of two articles, “There is almost no reference in the literature as to what constitutes a language disorder in a bilingual youngster.”
Clearly, our legislative and governing bodies have taken note of the peculiar difficulties encountered by learning disabled, bilingual students. Similarly, the public schools, principals, teachers, parents, volunteers, translators and other decision-makers have involved themselves in what evidences as a particularly complex problem. At the same time, it is the view of this author that only a deeper scrutinization of the difficulties encountered by this specialized group as well as the related complexities and components of the issues will yield a satisfactory assessment. To this extent, a deeper understanding of the demographic makeup as well as the linguistic difficulties reflected by this exceptional group will prove to be most representative of the directions which should be pursued in assessing bilingual special-education issues. In the final analysis, assessment must be considered within the light or context of specific and fundamental components, including purpose; our definition of disabled and non-disabled; labeling, self-esteem; and specific ethnic makeup. At this point, I should like to inject my personal view which has to do with the relationship between labeling and low self-esteem a facet of education for this specialized group which is too often overlooked. Students must be assessed on their individual merits and not upon broader or sweeping generalizations, such as is often the case with such so-called labilized disorders as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), wherein individuals will inevitably fall through the cracks of the fair and equitable education which is due them. This is even further compounded by the bilingual learning-disabled student and must be provided for within curriculum-based assessment.
Dolson, David P. (1985). “The Effect of Spanish Home Language Use on the Scholastic Performance of Hispanic Pupils.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, V. 6, No. 2,50.
Imhoff, Gary. (1990). Learning in Two Languages: From Conflict to Consensus. 44.
Langdon, H.W. (1983). “Assessment and Intervention Strategies for the
Bilingual, Language-Disordered Student.” Exceptional Children, 50, 37-46.