Federal & Indiana State Program Policies for English Language Learners

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Indiana, like all other states, applies federal policy to implement educational programs for English Language Learners. Additionally, Indiana has its own state policies for this purpose. This lesson gives you an overview of both types of policies.

Federal vs State Policy

You might wonder why there is a federal and a state policy to consider. Federal policy is the set of regulations that apply at the national level and, thus, all states across the country adhere to it. When it comes to programs for English Language Learners (ELLs), the federal policy that applies to all states is Title III of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Conversely, state policy is the set of regulations that each state develops in order to tailor their approach to the needs and make-up of their population. When it comes to programs for ELLs in Indiana, we find a few documents issued by the Indiana Department of Education. Those documents regulate different aspects of ELL programs. and include English Learner guidebooks, toolkit, etc. Now, let's take a look at how federal and state policies affect programs for ELLs in Indiana.

ESSA and ELL programs in Indiana

As we now know, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a federal policy that includes regulations for ELL programs in its Title III. The two main implications of this policy involve state accountability and funding for ELL programs.

The first aspect of state accountability under ESSA means that the overall English proficiency results for Indiana each year should include the academic performance of ELLs. Before ESSA, states would not include the performance of ELLs in their data about the overall English proficiency.

Additionally, under ESSA, funding for ELL programs is increased so that states can develop the ELL programs they need. This is great for Indiana, which is home to a large population of ELLs.

State-Specific ELL Approach

Within federal policy, states are granted a level of flexibility to adopt policies that fit their needs. Indiana has its own state-specific guidance for certain procedures. Let's take a look at these aspects.

  • Identification of ELLs. In order to identify ELLs, Indiana has a Home Language Survey (HLS) all parents fill in at the beginning of the academic year. The survey includes three basic questions about the student's native tongue, the language the student most often speaks, and the language the student mostly speaks at home. If any language other than English is included in any of the answers, Indiana schools apply a placement process.
  • Placement of ELLs. To place ELLs, Indiana schools apply WIDA standards. WIDA is a consortium of state departments of education. Initially, WIDA meant 'world-class instructional design and assessment', but now the consortium does not use the acronym meaning because its purpose has expanded. Indiana uses a WIDA placement exam to ELL students. Schools administer the test to students within 30 calendar days from the beginning of the academic year.
  • State-approved placement tests. It is important to clarify that there are no ELL placement tests for pre-K students in Indiana. For Kindergarten students, Indiana applies the Kindergarten W-APT. For grades 1-12, there is the WIDA Screener, available in online and paper formats.
  • WIDA Standards. Since Indiana uses WIDA standards, it is important to understand what these standards mean for ELLs. WIDA standards concentrate on helping students develop communication skills within these five aspects: social and instructional language, specific language for language arts, mathematics, science, and social sciences. In other words, ELL programs in Indiana ensure that ELLs not only learn English but also can use this knowledge in order to academically succeed in the overall curriculum at school.

The Importance of Evidence-Based Theory and Research

In addition to standards, both federal policy and state policy highlight the importance of current evidence-based theory and research. These two aspects should inform instructional practices in ELL programs. Federal policy (ESSA) mandates that states align language proficiency standards with academic standards. Similarly, Indiana state policy adheres to WIDA standards, which aim to support language academic development through appropriate assessment, high standards, and research. The strategies that teachers can use in the context of ELL programs include but are not limited to the following:

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