To advocate for immigrant and refugee students with disabilities

Research at NCEO identifies new ways to improve outcomes for English learners

Kristi Liu is passionate about providing equal access to quality education for immigrant and refugee students, particularly those with disabilities. The students she works with are commonly called “English learners” (ELs), and there are more than four million attending U.S. public schools. Many of these students struggle in school and need specially designed instruction and testing. Some also have a disability that can make learning in a second language even more challenging.

In the past, ELs with disabilities were often taught separately from their peers and may not have had the same kinds of opportunities as other students. Liu wants to change that.

Photo of a young male student with a disability using assistive technology

Liu developed her passion through teaching English classes to immigrant and refugee teens and adults. Several of her students had disabilities and had been prevented from getting a quality education. “As a teacher I wanted to help students who needed different instruction,” she says.  “But I didn’t know where to turn for resources.” Her classroom experiences eventually led to a position at the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO). NCEO works with state department of education staff across the country to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities, ELs, and ELs with disabilities.

“Educators need to find the best way to teach new information and skills to a student who isn’t fluent in English.”

Good teaching builds on what students already know. However, it can be difficult to determine what a child has never learned versus what a child might know in his or her first language but have trouble expressing due to a disability, and to limited English skills. Educators need to find the best way to teach new information and skills to a student who is not fluent in English. They also need to find better ways to measure what students have learned.

Photo of a young English learner in a school hallway

“What I love most about my job is doing hands-on work in schools across the country. I want to find out what educators  are doing to improve outcomes for ELs with disabilities, what’s working, and what resources they wish they had to do their work better. I also work with students and parents to find out what they believe helps kids learn and how kids can best show what they know.”

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Institute on Community Integration

102 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Dr SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455

P: 612-624-6300 | F: 612-624-9344

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