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.

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