Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Utilizing WAIS Scores to Determine Foreign Language Pathways and Learning Assistance for Students with Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Utilizing WAIS Scores to Determine Foreign Language Pathways and Learning Assistance for Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

FOREIGN LANGUAGE AND WAIS SCORES

Foreign language (FL) requirements at many postsecondary institutions remain a hurdle for many students with learning disabilities (LD) to overcome (Leons, Herbert, & Gobbo, 2009; Scott & Edwards, 2012; Scott & Manglitz, 2000; Shaw, 1999; Sparks, 2009; Trammell, 2011). In fact, many students without LD struggle with learning a second language (L2), as many as 20% in some environments, based on grades, college placement tests, and other factors. American foreign language deficits have been a concern since a presidential finding in 1979 identified wide-reaching problems that led researchers such as Lreed (1999) and others to suggest the growing need to study language learning (Ganschow & Schneider, 2006; Laskey & Hetzel, 2011 ; Platenburg, 2011 ; Ricardo-Osorio, 2008; Trammell, 2011; UPI, 2008). In addition to offering accommodations in the FL classroom, many schools have substitution policies for FL requirements, yet these policies and procedures remain inconsistent and variable across settings (Polomsky, 2007; Shaw, 1999; Sparks, Javorsky, & Ganschow, 2005; Sparks, Philips, & Javorsky, 2002). Placement tests are notoriously inconsistent and often inaccurate, due in part to local faculty design, which can vary widely; and the combined result of all these factors is a student failure or struggle rate that is among the highest of any content area, with math as a reasonably similar comparative content area (Berthold, 2012; Poel & Weatherly, 1997; Ricardo-Osorio, 2008). In addition to institutional variables that can also impact learning patterns, the diagnostic criteria for meeting eligibility for an LD diagnosis is sometimes unclear or applied inconsistently, and perhaps the LD framework itself is in crisis with new documentation guidelines evolving as a result of the 2008 Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act (ADAAA) (DCHE, 2010). In the past, an LD label was the gateway to specific types of accommodations. All of these variables heighten the need to study students who struggle with L2.

There is much discussion in the popular media of the so-called "crisis" in FL learning in the United States, and statistics do tend to bear this out ("Foreign language enrollment hits record level," 2003; Skorton & Altschuler, 2012). In addition, there is an unresolved tension between the established paradigm of the LD label where a relatively stable 3% to 5% of the student population is frequently cited as a norm, opposed to the wider struggling foreign language learner paradigm, where as much as 20% of the current postsecondary student population finds learning L2 more difficult than achieving in other content areas. This likely occurs for a variety of reasons, including increasing numbers of English Language Learners (ELL). There is growing evidence supporting the belief that foreign language difficulty is better seen as a continuum, rather than as a specific disability (Sparks, 2006,2011).

In an attempt to explore some of these issues and explore learning assistance pathways for academic centers and disability support services (DSS) offices, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scores (WAIS-III) for 112 college students with LD who self-reported FL difficulties were observed at a small liberal arts college over the course of a 5-year period. Students were tracked for FL success and whether a substitution was granted, and they were followed in the subsequent years to determine whether they graduated successfully. The WAIS-III (not the most current version, but still current during data collection, and quite analogous to the WAISIV, which is being utilized in a follow-on study) is a well normed and validated instrument commonly used to help determine the extent and nature of learning difficulties (Silva, 2008; Trammell, 2004). Ultimately, 43.6% of the students in the study who remained in school received a foreign language substitution, which replaced the requirement for proficiency at the intermediate level in a foreign language with an equivalent number of literature courses (foreign language in English translation courses, or FLETs). …

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