Defining English Learners

Creating Standardized Entrance and Exit Procedures to Identify English Learners

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) required states to work with stakeholders to create standardized statewide procedures for determining when a student enters and exits English learner status. Having a consistent definition is helpful because states can provide consistent and equitable services for students who move across state or even district boundaries. In an effort to engage states and national partners in improving their EL definition policy, we have developed several resources that examine issues, methods, and options associated with classifying potential ELs to EL status and reclassifying ELs to fluent English proficient status. These resources offer guidance to districts, states, and multi-state consortia for moving toward more common EL classification and reclassification criteria and procedures.

Quick Guide: Determining Who is an English Learner: Quick Guide to the Common Definition of English Learner Guidance

Publication: Moving Toward a More Common Definition of English Learner (January 2016): Collected Guidance for States and Multi-State Assessment Consortia

Guidance: Discerning - and Fostering - What English Learners Can Do With Language (August 2016)

Inclusion of English Learners in State Accountability

Incorporating English learner progress into state accountability systems

A key change in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is that the assessment and accountability for ELs now must be included in the state’s overall accountability system. The progress of EL students in achieving English language proficiency is one of the five accountability indicators so the topic of how to meaningfully incorporate EL progress into the school-level accountability has gained considerable attention among states. Many technical issues are new to states, including growth models to measure EL progress, standardized entrance and exit procedures, and meaningful inclusion of newly arrived ELs. We provided technical support to states as they developed state ESSA plans aimed at improving outcomes for all students, including ELs, and will continue to provide support as states move to implement their ESSA plans.

Major Provisions of ESSA related to the Education of English Learners (March 2016)

Including English Learners in Your State Title I Accountability Plan (January 2017)

Incorporating English Learner Progress into State Accountability Systems (January 2017)

U.S. Department of Education - ESSA


English Language Proficiency Standards and Assessments

Creating high-quality English language proficiency standards and assessments

State leaders are committed to ensuring English learners have high-quality standards and assessments focused on English Language Proficiency (ELP). We worked with state leaders, WestEd, and the Understanding Language team at Stanford University to develop a new set of ELP Standards which correspond to the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. We also facilitated the development of the new ELP Assessment for the 21st Century (ELPA21) that aligned with the ELP Standards. While states were already moving in that direction, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) now requires states to demonstrate the adoption of ELP standards derived from the four domains of speaking, listening, reading, and writing; that address the different proficiency levels of ELs; and that are aligned with the state’s academic standards. ESSA also requires the state’s ELP assessments to align with the state’s ELP standards.  

English Language Proficiency Development (ELPD) Framework

English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards

English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century (ELPA21)


New Thinking on English Language Development

Teaching English Learners Academic Language with Authentic Learning Experience

Developing a better understanding of academic language is believed to be one of the most important factors in the success of English learners (ELs). Increased language demands in college and career-ready standards has led to a fundamental shift from traditional teaching of vocabulary and grammatical structures to simultaneous teaching of academic language skills and rigorous content. This shift is reflected in CCSSO’s English Language Proficiency Standards which are designed for collaborative use by both EL and content-area teachers. The standards help educators recognize that language acquisition takes place across content areas. As teachers implement the state’s academic standards, identifying academic language demands in content-area materials is a crucial aspect of teacher expertise in teaching ELs.

English Language Proficiency Development (ELPD) Framework

English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards

Create Accountability for Equity

Including Ambitious Goals for English Learners’ Proficiency and Progress

State accountability systems have multiple dimensions under state and federal law, including setting ambitious and achievable goals for English learners to ensure they are making adequate progress toward achieving English language proficiency. States and stakeholders are working together to clearly define the meaning of English language proficiency and ensure accountability systems include the measures needed to track progress toward their goals.  Focusing on EL students through state accountability systems also helps state leaders intervene to provide additional support when EL students are not meeting those goals. We have developed several useful resources in this area.

Including English Learners in Your State Title I Accountability Plan (January 2017)

Incorporating English Learner Progress into State Accountability Systems (January 2017)

Leading for Equity: Opportunities for State Education Chiefs