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Research Report

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English Language Learners (ELLs) are the fastest-growing group of school-age students in public schools across the nation, and in Massachusetts. In this state, even as the total student enrollment declines slightly, the number of ELLs grows steeply. They number 68,820 in the 2010-2011 school year, an increase of 9,662 from the year before.

The number of ELLs identified as also having a disability doubled in Massachusetts (a striking increase of 115.4%) from 2001-2002 to 2010-2011. The proportion of ELLs placed in Special Education has increased by 5 percentage points, from 9.8% to 14.8%. This time period coincides almost exactly with the implementation of Question 2 (a public referendum approved by voters in 2002), which changed the state’s primary Language Learning Education policy from Transitional Bilingual Education to Sheltered English immersion, a language-restrictive policy similar to those in California and Arizona.

Misrepresentation of language minorities in Special Education has been a major problem in education for many years in the United States, including Massachusetts.


This research was made possible through the generous support of the Barr Foundation.



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