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Language graduation requirements should not be waived for special education students

After hearing from national and local experts, and analyzing the literature available on the topic, DC Immersion issues this policy statement on allowing SPED students to waive the world language high school graduation requirement and take a coding class or two level I language classes instead. DC Immersion fundamentally objects to waiving graduation requirements as to world languages for students with IEPs for three main reasons:

1. Language is too important a life skill

Language learning meets real world needs that are as important for our students with IEPs as they are for any other student.

“Language graduation requirements should not be lowered for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities, as a group, are no less capable of learning language than they are of learning math, science, history, or other courses required for graduation. It’s also clear that proficiency in a second language is a far greater life skill for most people than, say, higher-level math. Lowering standards in this area sends the wrong message both about the importance of language learning and about the capability of students with disabilities.” Simon Rodberg, Principal, DC International School

2. Coding is not a world language

Not for any students, including SPED students. In fact, Hadi Partovi, CEO of states that “The only people who would suggest that computer science is akin to learning a foreign language have never coded before” and both and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) agree that this should not be an either or – all students should learn world languages and coding. Here is ACTFL’s position statement on why a computer coding course is not equivalent to a world language course.

3. Languages might be an advantage for students in dealing with their special need

In the first study of its kind, scientists show that bilingual children with autism spectrum disorders can switch mental gears more easily than those who can only speak one language. See Medical News Today article. “There are an increasing number of families with children with ASD for whom using two or more languages is a common and valued practice and, as we know, in bilingual societies such as ours in Montreal, speaking only one language can be a significant obstacle in adulthood for employment, educational, and community opportunities.” Ana Maria Gonzalez-Barrero, Ph.D.

If anything, the way languages are taught needs to be adapted to the different needs of children with special needs, as this Guardian article suggests. For example, Dr Judit Kormos of the University of Lancaster says teaching methods should be adapted for dyslexic students, rather than taking them out of language classes. “Dyslexic students can learn another language quite successfully and they have to be given a chance. The teacher just needs to be aware of the dyslexia and teach slightly differently: much more visually, acting things out and explaining things a bit more explicitly than they would to other students. Some people are more receptive to audio channels of learning, others to visual, so using a combination of the two can be really effective.”

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