Special education laws have had a substantial impact on bilingual special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally passed in 1975 and reauthorized in 2004, governs special education services in public schools. The law protects the rights of students with disabilities and their families and tries to ensure that ELLs are assessed fairly. The law includes numerous provisions outlined below.
1. Informed consent: Schools must obtain written informed consent from parents or guardians to evaluate a student. Parents must be fully informed of their rights, any records to be released and to whom, and the nature and purpose of the evaluation. Parents or guardians must be informed in their native language or primary mode of communication.
2. Multidisciplinary team: Students should be assessed by a team of professionals with varied areas of expertise according to the student’s individuals needs. The team should include at least one general education teacher and one special education teacher. For English language learners, the team should include someone with expertise in the language acquisition process.
3. Comprehensive evaluation: Before an initial placement, the multidisciplinary team must conduct a complete assessment in all areas of suspected disability. No single procedure can be used as the sole criterion for determining an appropriate educational program for a child. Alternative procedures should be used when standardized tests are not considered appropriate (e.g., with culturally and linguistically diverse students). A comprehensive evaluation should include an analysis of the instructional setting and the child’s instructional history.
4. Exclusionary criteria: A student should not be labeled if the academic struggles are primarily the result of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. IDEA 2004 adds that a child should not be found to have a disability if the determinant factor is poor instruction in reading or math, or limited English proficiency.
5. Nondiscriminatory assessment: Assessments should be (a) selected and administered so as not to be racially or culturally discriminatory; (b) provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication and in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is clearly not feasible; (c) used for the purposes for which the assessments are valid and reliable; (d) administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and (e) administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of the assessments.