English Language Learners

From the MA DESE website:
State and federal laws require that publicly funded students in our schools who are not proficient in English or whose native language is not English, and who are not currently able to perform grade-level academic work in English receive instruction that is designed specifically to assist them both in learning English and in learning subject matter content. These students are referred to as limited English proficient (LEP) students or as English language learners (ELLs).

When a new student enters a school district, it is the district’s obligation to determine if the student is LEP.  State law, G.L.c.71A, requires that most LEP students be educated in a Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) program.  An SEI program consists of both sheltered subject matter instruction in English and English language instruction.  This requirement applies to all districts that enroll LEP students, regardless of whether there is one LEP student or hundreds of LEP students enrolled in the district.

Districts that enroll small numbers of LEP students, “ low incidence districts,” face unique challenges in implementing the law and working effectively with what is often a new group of students in the district. As noted above, these districts have the same legal obligation as “high-incidence” districts, but implementation on a smaller-scale will look different than large-scale implementation. To assist low-incidence districts with these challenges of smaller-scale implementation, the Department has prepared the Q and A that appears below.  Following the Q and A are three scenarios illustrating how three low-incidence districts in Massachusetts have sought to implement SEI in their districts.
1.  How do I know if a student is limited English proficient-LEP?

All schools in which publicly funded students are enrolled must determine if such students are limited English proficient (LEP).  This includes charter schools, collaboratives and vocational-technical schools and DOE-approved private schools, as well as district schools.   In order to identify LEP students, districts should administer a Home Language Survey to all students when they enroll in the district.  Once the district has a list of students who speak a language other than English at home, the district is required to use English proficiency assessments in speaking, listening, reading and writing to determine whether each child is LEP, and the appropriate placement of each LEP student by English proficiency level.

Districts that currently have no LEP students are still responsible for administering a Home Language Survey to each newly enrolled student in the district, and must have testing materials available to use in order to determine LEP status.

Our state’s English language proficiency assessments, the Massachusetts English Proficiency – Reading/Writing (MEPA R/W) and the Massachusetts English Language Assessment-Oral, (MELA-O) are not to be used for initial identification of LEP students.  More detailed implementation guidance on the initial identification of LEP students is available at http://www.doe.mass.edu/ell/identify_lep.html.

2.  What type of instruction should LEP students receive?

State and federal laws require that LEP students receive instruction that is designed specifically to assist them both in learning English and in learning subject matter content.  This requirement is not based on a minimum number of students in the district. A school or district with only one LEP student must have an appropriate program for that student.

Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) is the required program model for most LEP students unless the student has received a waiver in accordance with G.L. 71A or is enrolled in a two-way bilingual program.
Sheltered English Immersion has two components,
• English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, and
• Sheltered content instruction.

3.  What is English as a Second Language instruction?

English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction (also known as English language development or ELD) is explicit, direct instruction about the English language intended to promote English language acquisition by LEP students and to help them “catch up” to their student peers who are proficient in English.  It includes learning outcomes in speaking, listening comprehension, reading and writing.  ESL/ELD instruction is a required part of an academic program for LEP students.   ESL instruction should be based on an ESL curriculum and appropriate ESL/ELD textbooks and other materials.

ESL instruction addresses social and academic vocabulary, grammar and syntax commonly used in both social and academic communication, habits and norms of social and academic interaction in American schools, and strategies that promote second language learning and content learning.  In effective ESL classrooms, learning takes place when there is sustained verbal interaction, often in small groups, as the students complete carefully designed academic tasks that include speaking, listening, reading and writing.  Effective ESL instruction is often characterized by the use of thematic units, project-based instruction, and language instruction closely aligned with grade-appropriate content standards.

4.  Who is qualified to provide English as a Second Language instruction?

Only a teacher with an ESL license or an ELL license is qualified to instruct ESL/ELD classes. 

More information on ELL requirements is available at the MA DESE website, search ELL.