NCEO - National Center on Educational Outcomes

Graduation Requirements and ELLs with Disabilities


High school graduation is an important topic for English Language Learners (ELLs) with disabilities. Students who speak a language other than English, particularly those born in other countries, have some of the highest high school dropout rates in the United States. Educators and policymakers share a common concern for improving the quality of educational experiences for these students and increasing system supports to keep students in school.

ELLs with disabilities face complex graduation issues. State and district graduation requirements often require students to take challenging content courses to which ELLs with disabilities may not have access. Placement in remedial or support programs designed to improve their English or teach basic skills may be a barrier to access to required content courses. Limited access to required courses can prevent students from graduating and continuing on to post-secondary education or employment.

The requirement to pass high stakes assessments in order to move to the next grade or graduate from high school creates yet another barrier for ELLs with disabilities. If these students do have the content knowledge and skills in a particular area, they need to be able to demonstrate this on assessments in their second language. It can be difficult to distinguish between limited second language skills and limited content knowledge if assessments are not accessible to ELLs with disabilities.

At this time there is almost no research on the consequences of using high stakes assessments with ELLs who have disabilities. We need more information about the unintended consequences of graduation policies and practices for students at the secondary level. This type of information can help to improve instruction and assessment for these students.

More on high school graduation requirements for fluent-English speaking students with disabilities is available.