Examining the Disproportionate Representation of Bilingual Children in Special Education

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Ortiz, Jose A
Cummings, Kelli D
Chapter 2: Nonword repetition has been endorsed as a less biased method of assessment for children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, but there are currently no systematic reviews or meta-analyses on its use with bilingual children. The purpose of this study is to evaluate diagnostic accuracy of nonword repetition in the identification of language impairment (LI) in bilingual children. Using a keyword search of peer-reviewed literature from several large electronic databases, as well as ancestral and forward searches, 13 studies were identified that met the eligibility criteria. Studies were evaluated on the basis of quality of evidence, design characteristics, and reported diagnostic accuracy. A meta-regression analysis, based on study results, was conducted to identify task characteristics that may be associated with better classification accuracy. Diagnostic accuracy across studies ranged from poor to good. Bilingual children with LI performed with more difficulty on nonword repetition tasks than those with typical language. Quasiuniversal tasks, which account for the phonotactic constraints of multiple languages, exhibited better diagnostic accuracy and resulted in less misidentification of children with typical language than language-specific tasks. Evidence suggests that nonword repetition may be a useful tool in the assessment and screening of LI in bilingual children, though it should be used in conjunction with other measures. Quasiuniversal tasks demonstrate the potential to further reduce assessment bias, but extant research is limited. Chapter 3: The disproportionate identification of language-related disorders in schools, including communication disorders and specific learning disability, is an ongoing problem for bilingual children, with evidence of both over- and underrepresentation. Previous research has uncovered distinct identification patterns for emergent and English-proficient bilinguals, as well as differences in identification rates across grades. However, there is limited information about disability identification for different groups of bilinguals across grades. Thus, the purpose of this study is to examine the prevalence and incidence of language-related disorders in emergent and English-proficient bilinguals in elementary school. Using a nationally representative, individual-level, longitudinal data set, this study examined representation in language-related disorder categories, as well as identification rates by year. This study also examined individual- and school-level predictors of disability identification for bilingual children. Results indicate that emergent and English-proficient bilinguals exhibit distinct patterns of language-related disorder identification. Emergent bilinguals experienced a disproportionate increase in disability identification rates in third grade, resulting in significant overrepresentation in subsequent grades. By fifth grade, emergent bilinguals experienced approximately twice the odds of being identified with a language-related disorder, compared to monolinguals. English-proficient bilinguals, on the other hand, were underrepresented in language-related disorder categories in early elementary school grades, but experienced identification rates similar to monolinguals by fifth grade. Outcomes from this study provide insight into patterns of language-related disorder identification for bilinguals that have not been addressed in previous research. The implications for education practice and policy are discussed. Chapter 4: The disproportionate representation of bilingual children in special education is an ongoing issue in US schools, with evidence of both over- and underrepresentation. Identification rates of language-related disorders, including communication disorders and specific learning disability, are particularly relevant for bilingual children given the challenges associated with differentiating language difference from disorder and the possibility of misidentification. School-based speech-language pathologists are well positioned to address the issue, but many do not engage in practices that may reduce disproportionate disability identification. The purpose of this practitioner paper is to provide school-based clinicians with an evidence-based model for addressing disproportionality in bilingual children, with a focus on prevention. This paper provides a review of the literature on the topic and integrates information from relevant studies to provide a clear depiction of the nature of the problem. In addition, this paper describes a model of disproportionality prevention, and provides a set of evidence-based methods that clinicians can employ. Topics include, pre-referral intervention, early identification, parent engagement, and collaboration. By adopting the methods described in this paper, school-based speech-language pathologists can strengthen their ability to meaningfully address many of the issues that contribute to over- and underrepresentation of bilingual children in special education.