Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Mary Katherine O'Connor


Grounded theory was used to examine the social work perspective on English language learners (ELLs) entering special education. Fourteen interviews were conducted with 11 current school social workers from seven counties and cities in Virginia. The resulting theory is that the core variable, supporting ELLs, is the best attempt to resolve the main concern, the disconnect between the needs of ELLs and the resources available to them. This grounded theory suggests social workers and other school personnel can support ELLs and avoid an inappropriate referral to special education through: (1) culturally and linguistically appropriate assessment outside of the special education process, with particular attention to needs related to trauma and language acquisition; and (2) connection to available culturally and linguistically appropriate resources to meet the identified needs. Key findings are organized into eight dimensions: the school setting; the policy context; the needs of ELLs, engaging families of ELLs; community connections; the professional setting; the special education process; and the profession of social work. Implications include recommendations for policy change, changes to school social work practice, and changes in social work education. Further research includes testing the theory by examining the relationships between assessment, need, resource availability, and disproportional representation, as well as related areas of research such as the differences between high-ELL and low-ELL school divisions.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2012

Included in

Social Work Commons