Students who communicate primarily in a language other than English may be eligible for programs that help develop skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in English, and also support overall academic success.
A test is used to determine initial English proficiency level (the Kindergarten W-APT or the WIDA Screener), so students can be placed in the right program to meet their needs. Another test, WIDA ACCESS, is given every January or February to measure students' growth in English listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Students receive an overall proficiency score from 1.0 to 6.0, as well as individual scores in the different test components. (Students exit the program once they have an overall proficiency score of 4.5 or higher.)
Programs and strategies
English for Speakers of Other Languages (or ESOL) programs take different approaches based on the student's proficiency, grade level, academic need, and other factors. Students do not have to make up work missed in the general education classroom while they are receiving ESOL services.
Integrated instruction: General education and ESOL teachers collaborate to provide targeted language instruction based on students' English proficiency levels.
- Teachers may share instructional responsibilities ("co-teaching") in the general education classroom.
- The ESOL teacher may support an individual student or small group in the general education classroom ("push in").
- In some cases, the ESOL teacher may "pull out" students for extra language support outside the general education classroom — for example, to work with learners at beginning proficiency levels to focus on developing academic language skills in a compressed window of time.
Sheltered content instruction: A teacher certified in both ESOL and a content area teaches that content area to a class of English learners. This typically happens only in middle or high school.
ESOL class: This is scheduled, stand-alone English language instruction taught by an ESOL-certified teacher. ESOL classes happen most frequently in middle or high school.
Dual language or two-way immersion: Native English-speaking students and native speakers of other languages learn together, developing academic content knowledge, bilingualism, and cross-cultural competence.
Planning and Scheduling ESOL instruction:
Additional academic support
English learners can receive support during instruction and on tests to make sure that language is not a barrier to learning, grading, or promotion. Examples include
- Having another person read aloud to the student or write down what he or she dictates
- Using text-to-speech software
- Providing bilingual dictionaries
- Allowing extra time for tests
- Giving directions or clarifications in the student's native language
The ESOL teacher and general education teacher together determine what support is most appropriate, based on individual student need and abilities in both English and native language. This will be documented in the student's English learner plan. Both teachers are responsible for ensuring that the student receives the appropriate accommodations regularly during instruction and assessment. During standardized assessments, any certified teacher can provide the appropriate accommodations.
For English learners with disabilities, additional accommodations may be outlined under a 504 Plan or Individualized Education Plan.
English learners may also be eligible for programs for students who are gifted or advanced.
Grading and promotion
English learners receive the same report cards as native English speakers, with grades representing content knowledge and understanding in the same way they do for native English speakers. That is, English learners are not penalized for not being fully fluent in English.
In addition to content grades on report cards, English learners also receive an ESOL grade for work in ESOL services.
Note that students who are newly arrived in the United States and a U.S. school and who are at level 1.0 on the ACCESS test may be exempt from state testing and from report card grades for one year. Decisions about grading exemptions should be in made on an individual basis for each student.
English learners do not have to repeat a grade level because of English language proficiency. Instead, a decision to retain a student to repeat a grade should be based on multiple measures: for example, judgment of general education, content, and ESOL teachers together; ESOL class grades; benchmark assessment results; and ACCESS test scores that show consistent lack in progress.