English language learners identification

Who are English language learners?

English language learners are a diverse population of students across the United States. These students come from all over the world. English language learners come from a home that speaks another language and/or learn English as an additional language.

There are several terms that you should know are used to refer to English language learners. Below is a list of terms you might encounter:

  • ELL = English language learners
  • ESL = English as a Second Language student or services
  • EL = English learner
  • LEP = Limited English Proficiency student
  • Multilingual learner

English language learners in the USA speak over 750 languages and come from all parts of the world. An interesting fact is that the majority of ELLs are born in the USA. Therefore, approximately 75% of ELLs are born in the United States.


The identification of English language learners begins with the completion of a school Home Language Survey (HLS). A home language survey is a document that asks specific language-related questions. All families complete during school registration. The home language survey provides school information to begin ELL identification.

**Visit what is a home language survey?

Across the United States, schools must identify potential English language learners. The home language survey allows schools to find potential ELLs by inquiring about the languages spoken in the home or by the child. When a parent notes that another language is spoken at home this gives an ESL educator to begin the screening process.



Upon the start of school, a language screener determines a student’s English language status. An ESL educator evaluates a student’s English language proficiency to determine in-school language instructional services and supports. In other words, a screener assesses English language proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. A language screener determines whether a child is an English language learner.

A well-known screener is the ACCESS or WIDA test. Students that score below 5.0 on the screener officially qualify as English language learners. Language proficiency or ability is reported as a level of 1-entering, 2-emerging, 3-developing, 4-expanding, 5-bridging, or 6-reaching.

The screener assesses a student’s language ability in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Administration and scoring are individually done for each domain. This allows teachers and parents to get an idea of a student’s language ability for each domain.

Annual Assessment

An annual assessment monitors student language proficiency each school year. The annual test is similar to the language screener. It assesses progress in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Additionally, the annual test yields a proficiency level that describes a student’s language ability.

Similar to the screener, language proficiency reports a student’s language ability in all four domains. The scores report as

  • 1-entering
  • 2-emerging
  • 3-developing
  • 4-expanding
  • 5-bridging
  • 6-reaching

The results communicate a student’s English language proficiency progress and status.

Parent Reports

By law, a parent notification is sent home each year to inform parents of a student’s language test result. Parent reports show each domain as an individual score. For example, a student might score a 1-entering in speaking but a 2-emerging or 3-developing in writing. In general, the test reports each area individually.

In a parent report, you’ll also find how a school is providing English language development services. Note that instructional models vary by school. Some schools offer pull-out services while others offer push-in or co-teaching. The parent letter is also used to communicate when a child transitions out of ESL services.

Transitioning from ESL

Once a student is ESL he/she is provided language services and assessed to monitor language progress. Transitioning out of ESL status may take several years. However, some students are able to transition out in one year.

Students transition from ESL services by showing mastery of the English language. For instance, to show mastery a student must obtain a certain score on the annual test. Note that once a student is ESL he/she can show mastery only during the annual test.

The target score to transition out of ESL varies from state to state. In some states, a 4.5 or above is enough to show mastery and transition out of ESL. While in other states a 4.7 or 5.0 is necessary. Subsequently, when a student transitions out of ESL services, he/she becomes a former English Language Learner.

Is your child an ELL student? Share your experience or ask any questions you may have!

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top