Multilingual special education information for parents

The problem

Both in the state of Michigan and nationally, non-native English-speaking students are under-referred and overdiagnosed for special education services.

On average, dually identified students (receiving both English as a Second Language and special education services) receive a proper special education placement on average two to three years later than their English-proficient peers (Wagner, Francis & Morris, 2005, as cited in Sullivan, 2011). In addition, dual eligibility increases the likelihood of improper educational placement (Burr et al., 2015).

Why does this happen?

  • Increase in number of students dually eligible in Michigan and federally - rising need for appropriate services
  • Lack of culturally-sensitive assessments and procedures
  • Lack of standardized assessments and procedures: While Michigan has developed a handbook to assist with the identification and evaluation of English language learner (ELL) students requiring special education services, these procedures are merely a guide (Michigan Department of Education, 2018). Similarly at the national level, there is little guidance – and no law – with respect to standardized evaluation of these students (National Council on Disability, 2018).

The impact

  • Violates federal law: One of the main goals of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the concept of the “least restrictive environment”; that is, a student in special education is educated with non-disabled children to the fullest possible extent (Center for Parent Information and Resources, 2021). However, the National Council on Disability reports that nationally, students with this dual diagnosis are more likely to be in “substantially separate classrooms” than all students with disabilities (2018, p. 18).
  • Impacts long-term educational outcomes: Once a student is identified as being placed in special education, they are likely to stay there for the “remainder of their academic career” (The National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2020, p. 4).

In addition, an important aspect of students’ education is parental involvement, and this is often more difficult for families of ELL students involved in special education (Burr et al., 2015). For example, Burke et al. (2020) discovered that Latino families had less knowledge about the special education system than White parents, in part due to the language barrier.

The project

We are three Master of Social Work students at Michigan State University.

Below, you will find a 1-page document (in 4 languages) outlining the special education process. We have also created a video that contains the same information and linked to similar videos in 2 other languages.

This website is designed to give non-native English-speaking parents a tool to involve them in the special education system, empowering families to advocate for proper placement and resources – and helping to combat the overall problem of misidentification and overrepresentation of ELL students in special education.

Please feel free to use and distribute this material widely!

For any questions, contact the content creators:

Rachel DeBrincat (

Katie Dimmer (

Stephanie Schreier (

Video outlining the IEP process (English)

Below is a video our group created outlining the IEP process. Click on the thumbnail below to watch!

Special Education Process Overview

Multilingual documents

Below are documents describing the evaluation and IEP processes.





Multilingual videos

Below are videos describing the IEP process (created by the Michigan Alliance for Families).




Thank yous

This project could not have come together without the contribution of many wonderful individuals. Thank you to:

  • Our graphic design team: Prof. Chris Corneal & the students of the Design Center
  • Our translators: Prof. Jonathan Choti, Prof. Sadam Issa, Francisco Morales-Ríos, and Mayra Flores Mejía
  • MSU School of Social Work School Social Work instructors Kim Battjes and Mark Nester
  • Our professor for SW 822, Dr. Pilar Horner