Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Students: Definition & Characteristics

Instructor: Lesley King

Lesley has taught ESOL for many years, holds a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, and a doctorate degree in Instructional Leadership.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the definition of limited English proficiency (LEP) students. You'll also explore some of the common traits that can reveal if a student is considered limited English proficient.

Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Students

The field of education is one that changes often, specifically in relation to student populations. There are many different kinds of students who come from very diverse backgrounds, including a growing number who are ''limited English proficient.''

The definition of limited English proficiency (LEP) is based on criteria outlined in the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. State definitions are derived from the federal definition and focus more on who should receive English language learner (ELL) services while in school.

Federal Definition

The federal definition is divided into four different sections that include criteria related to a student's:

  • Age
  • School status
  • Language background
  • Ability to understand information spoken, read, and written in English.

For example, to qualify as an LEP student, a learner must be 3-12 years of age and already in school, or about to start school at the elementary or secondary level. However, a student does not have to meet all aspects of the four criteria to be considered LEP.

Identification of LEP Students

There are particular guidelines for identifying students whose first language is not English. One way to determine who qualifies as a limited English proficiency student is to utilize a language survey. A home language survey is usually a list of questions used to determine if a learner may need to be assessed for language support services. The language survey is usually found on a school enrollment or registration form.

The sample questions below are some that may be found on a language survey:

  • What was the first language you (or your child) learned to speak?
  • What language is spoken in your home?
  • What language do you speak most often?

W-APT Assessment

Many states also screen potential limited English proficiency students by using the (WIDA) ACCESS Placement Test, or W-APT evaluation. WIDA stands for World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. The W-APT evaluation determines a student's ability to proficiently communicate in the areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The scoring outline for the W-APT guides professionals who are screening potential LEP students.

It's important to note that the W-APT should not be administered without ensuring that students have met the criteria for services in other ways. Basing a student's eligibility solely on the W-APT may not provide a true picture of his or her language learning needs.

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