The English Language Learner KnowledgeBase for Teachers

The English Language Learner (ELL) KnowledgeBase for Teachers is an online resource supporting educators responsible for implementing programs for ELL students. It offers resources related to teaching ELL students based on Office for Civil Rights and the No Child Left Behind Act requirements.

This KnowledgeBase is currently being updated to reflect recent changes under federal law. The current version is provided for your reference as much of the information may still be relevant.

Element 1: Understand the Law

Purpose: Districts are required to take affirmative steps to address the language development of English language learners (ELLs) where the inability to speak and understand the English language prevents the students from effective participation in the district's regular education program. Element 1 addresses the legal requirements related to ELL students. Besides school leaders and staff members, these requirements must be understood by the entire school community.

Activity 1: Become Familiar with the Legal Aspects and Precedents

Activity 2: Review the No Child Left Behind Act

Element 2: Implement the English Language Learner Program

Purpose: School districts have broad discretion in selecting appropriate language programs, but they should consider three general questions when making a decision.

  • Is there a need to provide English language learner (ELL) services?
  • Will the ELL program meet the educational needs of ELL students effectively ?
  • Is the program approach backed by scientifically based research?

The program chosen should be considered sound by experts in the field. If a district is using a different approach, it must show it is considered a legitimate experimental strategy.

Activity 1: Investigate Approaches to English Language Learner Programs

Activity 2: Use Culturally Responsive Teaching Methodologies

Activity 3: Develop an English Language Learner Program

Element 3: Communicate With and Involve Parents

Purpose: School districts have multiple obligations under Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act and Office of Civil Rights (OCR) requirements. Under Title III, schools receiving such funds are to ensure timely and effective notification to parents of ELL students and extend a means for them to be involved with their child's education. The OCR requirements specify districts do so in a way that ensures meaningful access to ELL students and their parents. Accordingly, schools must develop effective methods of involving parents of ELL students in their child's education. In fulfilling these responsibilities, districts should develop procedures for providing the parents of ELL students with the same information provided to the parents of their non-ELL peers in a language-appropriate manner.

Activity 1: Communicate with Parents Using Language-Appropriate Methods

Activity 2: Develop and Implement a Parent Involvement Program

Element 4: Identify and Assess Students

Purpose: A district should have procedures in place for identifying English language learner (ELL) students and assessing their English proficiency. Such procedures should involve parents in making the final determination of whether their child is placed in the district's ELL program. Parents deciding not to have their child or children participate must sign a participation waiver.

Activity 1: Develop Appropriate Student Identification and Assessment Policies

Activity 2: Identify Students Whose Primary Home Language is Other Than English (PHLOTE)

Activity 3: Ensure Assessment of Students

Task 3: Ensure Appropriate Placement of ELL Students in Special Education Programs

Guideline: A school district's English language learner program (ELL) should have policies in place regarding ELL students' participation in special education programs. ELL students placed in special education programs should have notations about their home language and background placed in their special education student file.

Addressing Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Student Overrepresentation in Special Education: Guidelines for Parents

Authored by the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems, this document offers "guidance for parents on actions they can take to address a perceived overrepresentation of language minority students in a school's special education program."

Individual Education Plan

When developing an individual education plan (IEP), state law usually requires the IEP team to be attentive to cultural and language differences. Each state's department of education has information to aid IEP teams in the process of formulating an individual education plan. This document offers links to each state's requirements.

OCR PAR Issues Brochure - Special Education

This document contains the special education section from the OCR Region VII office's Profile, Assessment, and Resolution (PAR) Region pilot project. The brochure provides guidance on special education programs for ELL students.

OCR Self-Assessment Guide - Special Education Programs

This guide is part of a OCR Region VII pilot program to encourage partnership approaches to civil rights compliance. It assists school systems to voluntarily comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 regarding equal educational opportunities for national origin minority students who are English language learners. This section covers special education programs.

Alternate format: PDF

Legal Rights: The Overrepresentation of Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Students in Special Education

Authored by the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems, this document offers "guidance for practitioners on the federal laws guaranteeing a free and appropriate public education and protecting students with disabilities from discrimination."

Special Education and ELL Students

Each state department of education has regulations and standards for special education programs as they pertain to English language learners. The content provided summarizes a state's requirements and/or provides the specific rule and regulation.

English Language Learners and Special Education: A Resource Handbook

This link to the Connecticut Department of Education website provides a resource handbook about ELLs and special education. Though intended for Connecticut educators, educators in other states may find the content useful.

Programs for English Language Learners - Other District Programs

This document from the Office for Civil Rights offers guidance on establishing programs for English language learners. This reference addresses equal access for ELL students to the full range of district programs, including special education, Title I, gifted and talented programs, and nonacademic and extracurricular activities.

Element 5: Coordinate the English Language Learner Program with Other Programs

Purpose: As noted at the National Clearinghouse for English Language Aquisition (NCELA), "School districts are to provide alternative language instruction programs to children with limited English proficiency to help them develop their English language skills and meet the same state academic content and student achievement standards all students are expected to meet.

In doing so, school districts have broad discretion in selecting appropriate language programs, but should consider the following when developing their program.

  • Is there a need to provide alternative language services?
  • Will the alternative language program effectively meet the educational needs of ELL students?
  • Language instruction curricula used to teach ELL children are to be tied to scientifically-based research and demonstrated to be effective.
  • Provided by teachers certified as English language proficient.
  • Parents must be notified as to why their child is being placed in the program and have the right to have their child removed from the program."

Activity 1: Coordinate the English Language Learner Program with Other Programs

Activity 2: Conduct Program Evaluation

Element 6: Exit Students and Monitor Academic Progress

Purpose: A district should establish criteria to determine when English language learner (ELL) students qualify for exiting from the program. The exit criteria should be based on objective standards that ensure ELL students will be able to participate meaningfully and successfully in the district's regular education program.

Activity 1: Develop Appropriate Exit Policies and Procedures for the English Language Learner Program

Activity 2: Exit Students

Element 7: Provide Professional Learning

Purpose: In fulfilling the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Office for Civil Rights, staff development must occur to ensure ELL students progress academically and be afforded equal educational opportunity. This includes professional learning in the following areas:

  • processes/policies for the identification and exit of ELL students for intake staff members and classroom teachers,
  • implementation of the program model for ELL program staff members,
  • strategies for working with ELL students for content teachers, and
  • assessment process for translators and staff members who will assist in Special Education.

Activity 1: Understand Policies and Procedures for Professional Learning

Activity 2: Develop and Implement a Personal Professional Learning Plan