Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Curriculum & Instruction

First Advisor

Dr. Steve Chamberlain

Second Advisor

Dr. Sandra Musanti

Third Advisor

Dr. Kip Austin Hinton


There is a disproportionate number of English Learners (ELs) in Special Education across the United States (Kligner, Artiles, & Barletta, 2006). When educators are concerned about EL’s lack of progress and their underachievement they turn towards Special Education as a way of finding resources and a solution to their concerns (Kligner, Boile, Linan-Thompson & Rodriguez, 2014). This poses a challenge for evaluators, especially for those who lack or have little knowledge about the differences that exist between typical language acquisition differences and a learning disability. Evaluators who lack this knowledge might be more likely to confuse a student’s second language acquisition characteristics with a learning disability (Samson & Lesaux, 2009; Shifrer, Muller, & Callahan, 2011). The purpose of this mixed methods study was to describe Special Education evaluators’ perceptions about their current assessment practices when assessing English Learners for Special Education eligibility. Additionally, issues of fairness and equity within current assessment practices were explored in order to better understand evaluators’ perceptions and practices when assessing ELs for the purpose of Special Education identification. Through the use of a survey and interviews, the findings of this study revealed that evaluators who hold bilingual or ESL certifications are less likely to report difficulty in distinguishing a language difference from a learning disability (16.67%), were less likely to see the lack of developmental norms and standardized assessments in languages other than English (16%) and did not see a lack of knowledge of second language acquisition as an issue (0%). This provides insight into how the background of the evaluators may influence how they feel about assessing ELs and how they see the process.


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