Because of the lack of specialized resources and the scarcity of qualified personnel in general education, it has been suggested that districts with significant ELL enrollment will likely place these students in special education; in fact, research conducted in California by Alfredo Artiles, Robert Rueda, Jesús Salazar, and Ignacio Higareda suggests that English language learners (ELLs) are disproportionately placed in disability programs.
Historically, the so-called subjective disabilities have been overpopulated at the national level by ethnic minority students, particularly African American and American Indian learners, as explained by Suzanne Donovan and Christopher Cross. These categories include learning disabilities (LD), mild mental retardation (MMR), and emotional/behavioral disorders (E/BD). ELL overrepresentation has been reported in the past two decades, as Alba Ortiz and James Yates report in their chapter in English Language Learners With Special Needs.
It is interesting that although general educators may be using disability diagnoses as a means to cope with the aforementioned contemporary reforms, special education is transforming its identity as a result of the inclusive education movement and preventive approaches. Indeed, more students with disabilities are being educated in general education classrooms, though it has been reported by Daniel Losen and Gary Orfield that ethnic minority students are placed in more segregated settings than are their White counterparts. In turn, preventive models such as “response to intervention” (RTI) promise to identify and treat early (i.e., while the student is still in a general education environment).
These new trends are creating unique and unprecedented conditions for the education of ELLs. This entry addresses the legal background of the special education programs geared toward culturally and linguistically diverse students designated as ELLs and the implications for assessment, curriculum planning, and the nature of inclusive education programs for those students.