How Are ELL Students Identified?

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  • 0:04 Identifying ELL Students
  • 0:27 The Home Language Survey
  • 1:34 Testing and Placement
  • 2:42 Other Methods of…
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, you will learn about the procedures that school districts use to identify English language learner (ELL) students and provide them with an appropriate method of instruction.

Identifying ELL Students

All states in the U.S. have slightly different procedures for properly identifying ELL students. Furthermore, each school district within the state may vary these methods as well. However, under federal guidelines, all states and school districts follow a similar process. Let's take a look at some of the common steps used in the identification and placement of ELL students.

The Home Language Survey

Typically, one of the first steps in the identification process for ELL students is the Home Language Survey (HLS), a series of questions about language spoken at home. When a student first registers for school within his or her district, the parents or guardians will complete the HLS along with the other mandatory paperwork.

The survey asks basic questions in order to identify which students may be eligible for ELL services. Each state's HLS may vary, but here are some of the common types of questions asked:

  • Is there another language other than English used in the home?
  • Does your child speak a language other than English?
  • What language does your child speak most of the time?
  • What language did your child first learn to speak?
  • What language is spoken in the home most often?

In order to qualify for ELL services, a student simply needs to be regularly exposed to a language other than English while at home. Even if the student is not literate or fluent in this second language, the result of this regular exposure to another language warrants the eligibility for ELL services.

Testing and Placement

Following the Home Language Survey, students are often assessed to determine their level of English proficiency. Many school districts have an ELL department to handle this task.

If a student who qualifies for ELL services based on the Home Language Survey exceeds the cut-off score on the proficiency assessment, he or she will not qualify for services. Many districts will label this student as having been screened but will record that the assessment scores indicate English proficiency that is at least equal to that of native English speakers.

If a student scores below the threshold required to be labeled 'English proficient,' he or she will be placed in the district's ELL program. The next step will be for teachers to obtain parental permission for the child to receive these services. Parents and guardians always have the option to decline.

There are several ELL program models. Two school districts within the same state can have completely different programs for servicing their ELL students.

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