Waived English Learners in Tennessee: Exploring the Intersection of Language and Special Education Status
Oh, Min Hyun
Learning opportunities and academic achievement of English learners (ELs) continue to receive spotlight in the field. However, research in “new destination states” (e.g., Tennessee, Virginia)—where schools are experiencing unprecedented growth in ELs—remains limited. Additionally, subgroups within the EL population warrant further research. In Tennessee, ELs whose parents chose to waive English language support services (i.e., “Waived ELs”) have grown by 145% since the waiver option was introduced in 2010; however, research on Waived ELs and their educational outcomes remains limited. In this three-paper dissertation, I use Tennessee state-level data spanning 11 years (2010-11 to 2020-21) to explore ELs’ special education representation (paper 1), academic achievement (paper 2), and reclassification trends (paper 3) by their waiver status. In the introduction, I set the context of the study by briefly discussing the EL student population in the U.S. and specifically in Tennessee. Additionally, I present the average (between 2010-2011 and 2020-2021) sociodemographic characteristics of the EL population in Tennessee by waiver status. In Paper 1, I examine students’ timing and likelihood of special education placement by waiver status from kindergarten to eighth grade. In Paper 2, I explore students’ reading and math achievement by waiver status from third grade to eighth grade, compared to the Tennessee state average. Finally, in Paper 3, I examine students’ the timing and likelihood of reclassification by waiver status from kindergarten to eighth grade. In summary, this dissertation explores a growing yet understudied subgroup of ELs in Tennessee (i.e., Waived ELs), and, importantly, whether the waiver of English language support services explains differential outcomes in special education placement, academic achievement, and reclassification. The nuanced focus on the EL student population in the three papers will generate findings that can inform educational stakeholders involved in providing appropriate educational services to ELs.