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Are IEPs Different for English Language Learners?

By Jossie O’Neill

Our family moved here from Venezuela last year, and our son is learning to speak English in school. His teacher told us she thinks he may have reading issues that are making it even harder for him to keep up with his class.

She thinks we should get him tested and see if he qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). If he gets one, will it be very different from an IEP for a native English speaker? Are there any services that are commonly included to help with the language difference?

Jossie O’Neill

Special Education Curriculum Coach

An IEP should be individualized. This means it should spell out the services that are needed to address your child’s unique challenges. But here are a few things that are often included in IEPs for English language learners (ELLs).

English as a second language (ESL): If your child qualifies for an IEP, the plan will note how much time he’ll spend each week receiving ESL instruction. The IEP will detail how much ESL help will be provided in a small group outside of the classroom and how much, if any, will be provided as push-in support inside the classroom.

Special education in one or two languages: The IEP will make clear which supports and services will be provided in English and which ones will be provided in the language your child speaks at home. For example, if he has dyslexia, the IEP will specify whether a bilingual reading specialist is required.

Testing accommodations: Talk with your child’s IEP team about how to help him show what he knows on tests. Common accommodations for ELLs include things like having the directions on a math test read in the child’s native language. Other types of tests, like a reading-comprehension test, may be provided in the student’s first language. Be sure to discuss extended time and other testing accommodations that aren’t specific to English language learners.

About the Author

Portrait of Jossie Oneill

Jossie O’Neill

Irma Josefina “Jossie” O’Neill, Ed.D., is a special education instructional coach in New York City and serves on the advisory board of the Gateway School of Mumbai.

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