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

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

Task 1: Assess Exiting ELL Students

Guideline: English language learner (ELL) students should be evaluated to determine whether they meet the criteria to exit the program. The evaluation must assess whether the ELL student can speak, read, write, and comprehend English sufficiently to participate successfully and meaningfully in the school district's regular education program.

The principal is responsible for carrying out procedures in his/her school. All student files should be documented carefully with the appropriate data that supports the exit of students from the ELL program.

Standards for Test Administration

This ETS 2014 resource contains excerpts from the Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education which lists obligations for informing test takers and/or their parents and guardians about the assessment to be given and the use of the data gathered from the assessment process.

Source: Excerpts from the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing prepared by the Committee to Develop Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing of the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education, 1985. The purpose of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing is provide criteria for the evaluation of tests, testing practices, and the effects of test use. Part VI contain standards regarding test administration, scoring, and reporting, as well as standards for the protection of test takers' rights. This excerpt is taken from Chapter 15, Test Administration, Scoring, and Reporting.

In typical applications, test administrators should follow carefully the standardized procedures for administration and scoring specified by the test publisher. Specifications regarding instructions to test takers, time limits, the form of item presentation or response, and test materials or equipment should be strictly observed. Exemptions should be made only on the basis of carefully considered professional judgment, primarily in clinical applications.

The testing environment should be one of reasonable comfort and with minimal distractions. Testing material should be readable and understandable. In computerized testing, items displayed on a screen should be legible and free from glare, and the terminal should be properly positioned.

Testing sessions should be monitored where appropriate both to assist the test taker when a need arises and to maintain proper administrative procedures. Among the conditions that should be avoided in testing situations are:

  • Noise
  • Disruption in the testing area
  • Extremes of temperature
  • Inadequate work space
  • Illegible material, and so forth.

In the context of computer-administered tests, the novelty of the presentation may have an unknown effort on the test administration.

Standards for Testing Bilingual Persons

Originally produced by the Evaluation Assistance Center-West, the Standards for Testing Bilingual Persons is a useful resource to share with the school staff members responsible for testing ELL students. Refer to the ERIC/CUE Digest No. 65.

State Exit Criteria

This table contains links to each state's requirements related to ELL student exit criteria.

Leveling the Playing Field for English Language Learners: Increasing Participation in State and Local Assessments through Accommodations

This resource from the former Region III Comprehensive Center provides practical guidance for using test preparation strategies with English language learner students as a form of accommodation for standardized tests.

State ELL Assessments

This table contains links to each state's ELL assessment.

The Use of Tests When Making High Stakes Decisions for Students - Test Measurement Principles

This Office for Civil Rights resource guide contains a chapter on test measurement principles as they relate to English language learners.


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