Spring 2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah J. Noonan

Second Advisor

Todd Busch

Third Advisor

Karen L. Westberg


An action research study of practices used to nominate English Learners (ELs) for special education services was conducted to examine the disproportionate representation of ELs in special education. The experiences of district administrators and teaching staff were examined to identify existing practices used to nominate and identify ELs for English language services. Findings revealed ELs were referred to special education due in part to linguistic and cultural differences. Teachers developed deficit-oriented frameworks, nominating ELs students for special education at higher rates. Child study teams concentrated on qualifying students for special education. Once identified for special education, ELs received services using a pullout model (involving concentrated language supports outside of the general education class). The pullout model limited the potential to ELs for academic success. An analysis conducted through the theoretical lens of critical pedagogy uncovered organizational frameworks necessary for improving EL achievement, solving academic problems, and adequately considering linguistic and cultural factors when considering referrals to special education. Specifically, frameworks promoting inclusive English language services, collaboration across professional assignments, opportunities for teachers to engage in critical reflection, and increased capacity to provide early intervention within the general education setting. Finally, this study offers a systematic method for addressing ELs presenting with persistent academic problems to account for linguistic and cultural differences without assuming the presence of a disability. The study offers a decision making model to differentiate between the challenges associated with English language acquisition and learning disabilities.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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