Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Young Children with Disabilities

When assessing young children for early intervention or special education services, practitioners need to be sensitive to the cultural and linguistic variations that exist in our society. Appropriate procedures need to be in place to determine which language will be used to conduct assessments and to ensure that appropriate assessment/screening tools are being used. It is critical to obtain a non-biased picture of the child's abilities, in order to determine whether certain patterns of development and behavior are caused by a disability or are simply the result of cultural and linguistic differences. This Web page provides a selection of resources that address these issues. The items provided below are listed on other subject pages where appropriate, but are gathered here as a convenience to our readers.

Selected Resources

Tools and Resources for Identifying All English Learners (January 2015) Tools and Resources for Identifying All English Learners (January 2015)

This toolbox was developed by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) to help state and local education agencies in meeting their obligations to English Learners (ELs), including preschool-age children. It should be used in conjunction with joint guidance from Ed's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reminding states, school districts and schools of their legal obligations to English learners under civil rights laws and other federal requirements. The guidance includes information on evaluating English learners for special education services.

PDF: Dual Language Learners: Research Informing Policy, Castro, D. C., García, E. E., & Markos, A. M. (2013) by The Center for Early Care and Education Research - Dual Language Learners (CECER-DLL).

The Center for Early Care and Education Research - Dual Languaage Learners is a federally funded project to advance the research field to improve assessment, child care, and education for dual language learners (DLLs) from birth through five years of age. Their research brief describes issues and policy implications in developing early childhood programs, policies and practices, including language, learning, literarcy development, and early and accurate identification and assessment.

Other briefs of interest by The Center for Early Care and Education Research - Dual Language Learners:

PDF: Development of Infants and Toddlers Who Are Dual Language Learners (released 4/14/2014)

This paper identifies areas of research knowledge and gaps in the understanding of the development of infants and toddlers who are dual language learners.

PDF: Examining the Use of Language and Literacy Assessments with Young Dual Language Learners, Bandel, E., Atkins-Burnett, S., Castro, D. C., Wulsin, C. S., & Putman, M. (July 2012)

PDF: Developmental Assessment of Young Dual Language Learners with a Focus on Kindergarten Entry Assessment: Implications for State Policies, Espinosa, L. M., & García, E. (November, 2012).

WWW: Assessing All Children (2008) Chapter 8 of Early Childhood Assessment: Why, What, and How, by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

This chapter addresses the challenges to assessment posed by groups of children who differ from the majority population in various ways. The first section reviews issues around the assessment of young children who are members of ethnic and racial minority groups in the United States and the research that has been done on them, chiefly on black children. The next section deals with the assessment of young children whose home language is not English. And the final section discusses the assessment of young children with disabilities.

WWW: Position Statement on Screening and Assessment of Young English-Language Learners (2005) National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

This supplement to the NAEYC and NAECS/SDE Joint Position Statement on Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation provides recommendations, with specific indicators of effective practice, that are intended to help policy makers, program administrators, teachers, and others improve screening and assessment practices for young English-language learners. It includes a Where We Stand Summary and the Complete Position Statement, in both English and Spanish, as well as the Complete Position Statement with Expanded Resources.

State Resources

WI Collaborating Partners, whose mission is to support a cross agency, collaborative, high quality comprehensive early childhood system of services has a webpage on Serving Dual Language Learners. The Facts and Tips section contains tip sheets on a variety of topics relevant to dual language learners including language development, on-going and diagnostic assessment, and use of interpreters.

Find More Resources

To find literature related to the early identification of culturally and linguistically diverse young children with disabilities, try searching the professional literature using keywords, a phrase, or a combination of some of the search descriptors listed below.

  • "Early Identification"
  • Disabilities"
  • "Disability Identification"
  • "Cultural Influences"
  • "Cultural Awareness"
  • "Minority Groups"
  • "English (Second Language)"
  • "Disproportionate Representation"
  • Evaluation
  • Assessment
  • "Early Childhood Education"
  • "Preschool Education"
  • "Early Intervention"
  • "Young Children"
  • IDEAs that Work: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education

The ECTA Center is a program of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, funded through cooperative agreement number H326P170001 from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the Department of Education's position or policy.

Project Officer: Julia Martin Eile     © 2012-2020 ECTA Center

  • UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute