English Language Learners
Throughout the history of education many different terms have been used to describe or characterize children whose first language is other than English. For example, students with Limited English Proficiency (LEPs), students for whom English is a Second Language (ESLs), or Second Language Learners (SLLs). Currently educators refer to these children as English Language Learners (ELLs). This shift in language represents a more accurate reflection of the process of language acquisition.
The growth of the ELL population was a direct result of robust immigration through the 1990s and into the early years of the new century. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of foreign-born people living in the U.S. in 1995 was 24.5 million. By 2005, that population stood at 35.7 million. In that same decade, the English-language-learner student population nationwide grew by about 57 percent to 5.1 million students, from 3.2 million, according to data from the National Clearinghouse for English language Acquisition, based in Washington DC (see resources).
Foreign-born English Language Learners of school age hail from more than 200 countries that span every corner of the globe, according to an original analysis by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. Mexico is the largest single country of origin, accounting for nearly 54 percent of all ELL youths born outside the United States or its territories. Large groups also immigrate from elsewhere in the Americas and from Asia. However, about two-thirds of all English Language Learners are native-born.
Region II Data
LEP/ELL students in New York: The LEP/ELL populations in New York and New Jersey, in particular, are heterogeneous in a number of ways including age, grade level, national origin, language, time in U.S. public schools, levels of proficiency and literacy in both first and second languages, and extent of recent instruction in both first and second languages. In New York, the LEP/ELL enrollment dropped by 13.9% from 236,356 in 1994 to 203,583 in 2005, yet New York remains sixth among the six states with the highest concentrations of LEP/ELL students in the nation. The next highest concentration is in Puerto Rico (NCELA, 2006b; Padolsky, 2006).
The New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) is administered annually to all LEP/ELL students for Title III purposes, including to newly arrived LEP/ELL students for Title I accountability, in grades K–12. Each student’s performance on this test serves as the basis for determining whether the student continues to be classified as LEP/ELL. Based on NYSESLAT results, the student is classified as beginning, intermediate, advanced, or proficient English level. In addition, in compliance with NCLB, New York administers the state English Language Arts (ELA) test to LEP/ELL students in grades 3-8 who have attended school in the United States for more than one year. ELA testing accommodations for LEP/ELL students allowed in New York are time extension, separate location, third reading of the listening selection, and bilingual dictionaries and glossaries. Schools may not provide oral or written translations of the ELA in students’ native languages and students may not write responses to open-ended items in their native languages (New York State Education Department, 2008b). Even with accommodations, a result of this NCLB requirement is that LEP/ELL students are too frequently identified as learning disabled when they are tested only in English and not also in their first language to determine literacy level in the first language. Current testing protocols do not distinguish between language disability and language difference.
LEP/ELL students in New Jersey: New Jersey saw a 17.7% increase in LEP/ELL enrollment from 52,081 in 1994 to 61,287 in 2005 (NCELA, 2006a) and in 2008, there are 279,366 language minority students in the state [see Appendix A (Table 3)] who speak 11 languages [see Appendix A (Table 4)]. In New Jersey, the Bilingual Education Act (N.J.S.A. 18A:35-15 and P.L. 1974, c.197) was enacted to ensure that LEP/ELL students are provided instruction in their native language in order to develop academic skills while acquiring English language skills. The responsibility of the New Jersey Bureau of Bilingual/ESL Education is to provide assistance to local districts in designing and implementing educational programs that will meet the needs of limited English proficient students and to assure compliance with state and federal regulations.
New Jersey schools may provide the following testing accommodations for LEP/ELL students: additional time up to 150% of the administration times indicated; translation of the test directions only into the student’s native language; and use of a Bilingual translation dictionary. Starting in the 2003-2004 school year, the NJ High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) Special Review Assessment (SRA) Performance Assessment Tasks (PATs) will be available in Spanish, Portuguese and Gujarati. The SRA is an alternative assessment that provides students with the opportunity to exhibit their understanding and mastery of the HSPA skills in contexts that are familiar and related to their experiences (New Jersey Department of Education, 2008b).
LEP/ELL students in Puerto Rico: LEP/ELL enrollment in Puerto Rico increased by 302.4%, from 143,769 in 1994 to 578,534 in 2004. In Puerto Rico instruction and testing are delivered in Spanish. English is taught as a second language and study of English is required (NCELA, 2006c). The approach for the instruction of English is more aligned with Foreign Language program models. Acquiring English to master any content area or academic English is not a goal. Rather, Puerto Rico schools are faced with the challenge of educating students who are Spanish Language Learners (SLL) – Hispanic students who have been schooled in the United States and cannot perform academic work in Spanish.
LEP/ELL students in the Virgin Islands: In the Virgin Islands, LEP/ELL enrollment decreased by 88.1% to 666 in 2005 from 5,604 in 1994 (NCELA, 2006d). In more recent years, an influx of students from the Dominican Republic, many of whom are over-aged and under-schooled, places a particular challenge on the Virgin Island’s education system. The Islands are also experiencing the immigration of other ethnic and linguistic groups from the Middle East and Africa. The situation is compounded by a scarcity of teachers. This has prompted the SEA to recruit teachers from abroad, e.g., from the Philippines, who need to be trained in cultural awareness and the general fundamentals of the U.S. education system. The Virgin Islands does not report testing information for LEP/ELL students (NCELA, 2006d).