Identification Problems: US Special Education Eligibility for English Language Learners

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Public schools in the United States are federally mandated to identify and serve all students with disabilities. However, students whose native language is not English are at risk of being inappropriately identified or not identified for special education because issues related to language and culture complicate the identification process. This article presents findings from a qualitative multi-case study of state education agencies, school districts, and schools along the US-Mexico border. Document analysis and in-depth interviews revealed that state and district policies often lack meaningful guidance for educators in the field while bureaucrats working in state educational agencies and school districts are unprepared and lack time, knowledge, and resources to support schools and educators. The findings inform next generation policy initiatives and identify important lines of inquiry for further research.