Overidentification of Learning Disorders among Language-Minority Students: Implications for the Standardization of School Achievement Tests/überidentifikation Von Lernstörungen Bei Kindern Mit Deutsch Als Zweitsprache: Implikationen Für Die Normierung Von Standardisierten Schulleistungstests

By Brandenburg, Janin; Fischbach, Anne et al. | Journal for Educational Research Online, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Overidentification of Learning Disorders among Language-Minority Students: Implications for the Standardization of School Achievement Tests/überidentifikation Von Lernstörungen Bei Kindern Mit Deutsch Als Zweitsprache: Implikationen Für Die Normierung Von Standardisierten Schulleistungstests


Brandenburg, Janin, Fischbach, Anne, Labuhn, Andju Sara, Rietz, Chantal Sabrina, Schmid, Johanna, Hasselhorn, Marcus, Journal for Educational Research Online


l. Introduction

Similar to many other countries, Germany's population is becoming increasingly diverse. In fact, the current German National Report on Education (Authoring Group Educational Reporting, 2014) pointed out that approximately 34 % of elementary school children in Germany have a migration background, and that this number is steadily increasing. Consequently, many children for whom the language of academic instruction is not their native language are entering the educational system. Stimulated by these developments, much research attention in recent years has been devoted to the academic success of language-minority students (also referred to as non-native speakers throughout this study). Overall, this branch of research consistently points towards the enormous challenges these children face in educational settings: For instance, language-minority students constantly lack behind their native German speaking classmates in academic achievement (e.g., mathematics: Heinze, Herwartz-Emden, & Reiss, 2007; reading: Schwippert, Wendt, & Tarelli, 2012; Stanat, Rauch, & Segeritz, 2010) and have double the risk of dropping out of school (Authoring Group Educational Reporting, 2014). Moreover, as international large-scale assessments like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have shown, particularly in Germany language-minority students are at a greater risk of failure in school (e.g., Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2003; Prenzel et al., 2007; Stanat et al., 2010). These alarming results have raised attention to the learning needs of the many children for whom the language spoken in school is not the native language.

From an intervention perspective, it is often crucial to identify the particular reasons why a child struggles in school and to examine whether or not the achievement problems are caused by an underlying learning disorder (LD). Yet, with respect to language-minority students, clarifying this question poses some diagnostic challenges to educational practitioners: Since the language of instruction is not the children's native language, poor academic achievement could primarily be caused by second language acquisition rather than by an underlying LD (cf. Orosco, Almanza de Schonewise, de Onis, Klingner, & Hoover, 2008). On the other hand, limited proficiency in the second language could also mask an LD so that it might be easily overlooked by diagnosticians (cf. Cline & Frederickson, 1999; Solari, Petscher, & Sidler Folsom, 2014). The difficulty of teasing apart these two possibilities may hamper a correct identification of affected children and, in turn, may delay the provision of appropriate support (cf. Samson & Lesaux, 2009). In this study we argue, that - in order to overcome this obstacle - special attention must be given to the normative samples of the school achievement tests used for LD classification. Otherwise conclusions derived from test scores may be invalid and a reliable diagnosis of LD in language-minority students might not be possible.

1.1 Definition and diagnostics of learning disorders

In European countries, diagnostics of LD is usually based on the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10, World Health Organization [WHO], 1992), according to which LDs are subsumed under the term specific developmental disorders of scholastic skills. Among the subtypes listed are specific reading disorder (F81.0), specific spelling disorder (F81.1), specific disorder of arithmetical skills (F81.2), and mixed disorder of scholastic skills (F81.3). The main feature of this category of disorders is a significant and unexpected impairment in the development of reading, spelling, and/or mathematical achievement: The learning problems are significant in that the child's performance is substantially below the level expected for the child's age and years of adequate schooling; and they are unexpected because they are in contradiction to the child's intellectual potential and are thus not a consequence of low IQ. …

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Overidentification of Learning Disorders among Language-Minority Students: Implications for the Standardization of School Achievement Tests/überidentifikation Von Lernstörungen Bei Kindern Mit Deutsch Als Zweitsprache: Implikationen Für Die Normierung Von Standardisierten Schulleistungstests
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