Distinguishing Difficulty From Disability: Next Steps in Improving the Identification of Reading Disabilities in English Learners
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CitationMesite, Laura. 2020. Distinguishing Difficulty From Disability: Next Steps in Improving the Identification of Reading Disabilities in English Learners. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractEnglish Learners (ELs) comprise approximately 10% of the U.S. public school population and face the daily challenge of acquiring skills and content in a developing second language. These students often experience difficulties with reading comprehension, even after acquiring a high level of conversational English and adequate word-level reading skills. Given that a majority of disciplinary content is learned through reading, ELs are at risk of school failure since English is the major instructional language in public schools. Those adequately supported through second language services have the potential to achieve academic success. However, like their English-proficient peers, a portion of ELs need additional support when they struggle with learning due to a reading disability (RD). Nevertheless, it is especially challenging to identify RDs in this population, as practitioners must rule out second language acquisition, cultural misunderstandings, inadequate instruction, and socioeconomic disadvantage as primary sources of reading difficulties. This thesis aims to contribute to the body of literature that addresses this challenge. The first study utilizes an online survey of 598 school- and clinic- based practitioners from across the U.S. to provide a descriptive investigation of the current roles of professionals in the identification process; range of assessments and methods used; and reported barriers to accurate and timely identification. Findings suggest that there is extensive variability in the methods involved, but insufficient training, bilingual practitioners, and valid and reliable assessments for ELs are major professional barriers. The second study compares behavioral (n=76) and neural (n=46) measures of reading processes among adolescents who are Spanish-speaking ELs, Spanish-English bilinguals, typically-developing monolingual English speakers, or monolingual English speakers with an RD. While typically- developing monolingual and bilingual adolescents generally demonstrated adequate reading skills in English, ELs and monolinguals with an RD demonstrated difficulties across a variety of English word reading measures. ELs also demonstrated substantially lower performance than all other groups on measures of English vocabulary and reading comprehension despite adequate performance on these measures in Spanish. Generally, participants shared similar neural correlates of component word reading processes in English. Taken together, this dissertation aims to provide a foundation for future research on this important topic.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37364527