In December 2014, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) issued changes to Part 154 of the Chancellor’s Regulations concerning English Language Learners.  One of the revisions requires schools to create a  Language Proficiency Team, or LPT, for the purpose of determining the English language proficiency status of students with disabilities. This past month, NYSED released the long-awaited guidance, Commissioner’s Regulations on Subparts 154-2 and 154-3: Determining English Language Learner/Multilingual Learner (ELL/MLL) Status of and Services for Students with Disabilities (found mid-page at:  http://www.nysed.gov/bilingual-ed/regulations-concerning-english-language-learnersmultilingual-learners).

The guidance document states that the LPT must be part of the process for English Language Learners (ELLs) with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), who are newly enrolling in or re-entering a NYS K-12 public school if the initial screening and individual interview with the student suggests that the student’s home or primary language is other than English.  This includes students who are transitioning from CPSE to CSE and those arriving from another state or territory.  The LPT must make a recommendation to the principal that either: 1) the student has second language acquisition needs and is to take the New York State Identification Test for English Language Learners (NYSITELL), or 2) the student’s disability is the determinant factor affecting his or her ability to demonstrate proficiency in English and the student does not have language acquisition needs.

Examples of two students entering Kindergarten may clarify this process.  Both students are classified with Autism and have severe communication disorders.

The first student lives with his grandmother and both parents.  The grandmother speaks Bengali and the mother and father speak Bengali and English.  In the Home Language Questionnaire, the parents identify a language other than English as being present in the home.  As a result, the English as a New Language (ENL) teacher conducts an interview with the student and the student is not able to demonstrate proficiency in English.  At the subsequent LPT meeting the team reviews documentation from the CSE of the student’s severe expressive and receptive language delays.  The prior speech/language and educational evaluations state that the student had difficulty with directions provided in both English and Bengali, but was more frequently able to respond to directions in English.  They also learn that, although the grandmother speaks Bengali to the student at home, the parents speak only English to him. With this information the LPT concludes that the disability is the primary reason the child cannot demonstrate proficiency in English and that he has no second language acquisition needs. This student is not identified as an ELL and will not take the NYSITELL.

The second student comes from a home in which Spanish is identified as the dominant language in the Home Language Questionnaire.  During the interview with the ENL teacher the student is not able to demonstrate proficiency in English.  The LPT then reviews CSE documentation that the student had severe expressive communication delays and stronger receptive communication skills.  Most of the evaluators say that the student performed better when test questions and directions were in Spanish.  The LPT concludes that the student’s limited English proficiency might not be due to the disability, but to limited exposure to English and recommend that the student be given the NYSITELL with accommodations. Results of the NYSITELL confirm the student is an ELL.

A student who comes from an environment where English is not the dominant language should not be denied the opportunity to take the NYSITELL if there is any doubt.  The guidance released by NYSED is very clear on this:

Unless the preponderance of evidence clearly indicates that a student has no second language acquisition needs and requires no second language supports, the student should take the NYSITELL.  A lack of information about second language needs in the IEP or previous records should not be interpreted as meaning these needs do not exist. (NYSED, 2018, p. 12)

The guidance also emphasizes that the LPT should not recommend that disability is the determinant factor merely because of concerns that the student may be unable to exit ELL/MLL status due to the impact of the disability (p.12).

The LPT is an important step in identifying students who should or should not take the NYSITELL due to their disability.  This decision can have long-lasting effects on a student’s outcomes.   These decisions require a close look at all of the available evidence.  Page 8 of the guidance provides a list of factors for the LPT to consider.  Take some time to carefully review the entire document, and contact us if you have questions.