Expert in English learners receives prestigious leadership award

AUSTIN — The Council for Exceptional Children presented its 2021 Romaine Mackie Leadership award to Alba A. Ortiz earlier this year in recognition of her contributions to improving the education of English Learners and those with disabilities.

Ortiz is a professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin and currently works with an educational consulting company.

“A nationally recognized expert on the education of English Learners with language and learning disabilities, Dr. Ortiz’s areas of expertise include disproportionate representation of English Learners in remedial and special education programs, culturally and linguistically responsive Multi-tiered System of Support and Response to Intervention, identification of ELs with language or learning disabilities, second language acquisition, language assessment, and programs and services for ELs with language/learning disabilities,” a news release stated.

A Cotulla native, Ortiz is an educational trailblazer who comes from a family of trailblazers.

She is the daughter of a migrant mother from Mexico and the first non-white person to receive a high school diploma in Cotulla, the release said. Ortiz kept to that trend; she was one of just 12 Mexican-American women in the United States to receive a Ph.D. the year she graduated and one of just two to hold an endowed chair at a Research 1 University.

Ortiz worked at a number of universities and served on an advisory council for Jimmy Carter, the release noted, until the University of Texas at Austin recruited her to serve as faculty in the Department of Special Education and to establish the College and University, Office of Bilingual Education, where she was lauded with posts and awards.

“Alba’s research and academic work has provided leadership in research and scholarship, personnel preparation, policy and program development, and the creation of systems for the equitable delivery of services to children with special needs from diverse cultural and linguistic communities,” the release said. “The literature in bilingual special education recognizes that Dr. Ortiz was one of the founders of this field; she was one of very few professionals to obtain federal research grant support in the early 1980’s, for the investigation of referrals, identification, and placement of English Learners (ELs) in special education.”

That work, the release said, has been foundational.

“Her research and teacher preparation projects were instrumental in the development of many students’ career trajectories,” it read. “By now there are more than two or three generations of educators whose work has benefited from, and been informed by Dr. Ortiz’ scholarship and leadership.”

Ortiz retired in 2012 and was named the University of Texas System Board of Regents President’s Chair for Education Academic Excellence, Emerita, the release said.

“Alba has continued with her research programs related to the relationship of students’ school instruction, language development, disability determination and intervention efficacy,” it said. “She continues to serve in Co-Editor roles for the CEC Journal, Multiple Voices for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Exceptional Learners; and, the National Association for Bilingual Education, Bilingual Research Journal. She is an expert national consultant for the Office of Civil Rights, school districts, universities, and so forth.”