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What is a Home Language Survey Form?

Identifying English learners

Many parents wonder how schools identify English language learners (ELLs). As an ESL coordinator, I often find myself explaining to parents why a child was identified as an ELL student. Most parents don’t realize why schools use a home language survey and how the identification of an English language learner begins.

The completion of a school registration Home Language Survey (HLS) Form during a new student registration provides valuable information to schools. The school registration collects demographic and language information from all students.

The federal government requires that all schools administer a Home Language Survey Form to all families. For this reason, native English-speaking families must also complete the Home Language survey. The answers given on the HLS form determine the next steps taken after school registration. Schools share the information with the English language department to initiate a possible identification.

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What’s in a home language survey?

Most home language surveys contain similar questions that inquire about languages spoken in the home. Other questions in the survey ask about a child’s country of birth.

Some of the questions shown in a school registration home language survey may look like the following questions:

  • What is the primary language in the home, regardless of the language spoken by the student?
  • What language is most often spoken by the student?
  • Which language (s) did the student first acquired?
  • What language does the parent speak to the child?

When one or more of the above questions notes a language other than English the school begins a potential identification. At that point, a school educator determines if a screener is necessary. To assess language proficiency, the school uses an English language proficiency screener. The screener is often an online or paper-based test that assesses English language proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Note that a school has 25 days from registration to administer a screener.

The English language screener determines whether a student is eligible to receive English language support or services. In other words, the screener determines if the student is an ESL student or not. In most states, a score below 4.9 qualifies a student as an English language learner. A score of 5 or above is used to determine that a student does not need English language services.

Why do schools assess English language proficiency?

There are various reasons behind language proficiency screener. Federal law requires the assessment to identify students that are in need of language instruction and support. The results of the test provide schools the necessary information to plan language instruction for students.

For instance, educators can use the test results to see which areas of language need attention. Does the student need help in understanding, speaking, reading, or writing? Program placement is also determined depending on the student’s needs.

When a child scores above a 4.9 in the WIDA screener test it indicates that the child demonstrated language proficiency.  For schools, the results show that the child may possess the necessary language skills to do school academic work.   

What happens after my child becomes an ESL/ELL student?

Once a child is officially identified ESL he/she begins receiving language instructional services. Language instructional services can vary in a school depending on resources and sometimes funds. A student might be scheduled into a designated class or receive small-group instruction at certain times. For English learners, the type of programming varies across schools.


Language instruction given to students in schools focuses on developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. An annual English language test is then administered once a child is officially identified as ESL. The annual test measures student language development progress obtained each school year. The assessment is also used to determine when a child has acquired the necessary language skills to transition out of ESL services.

Can a parent stop a school from testing a child for ESL Services?

Although a parent has the right to decline English language development services they are not able to impede the administration of an entrance exam or the annual language assessment. The language assessment is a requirement by the Federal Government to ensure that students needing to improve English proficiency receive the language instruction required.

For this reason, schools do not need parent permission to assess a possible English Language Learner student. A school must administer and offer necessary language development services to all eligible students.

What happens if I decline language services for my child?

Once the school identifies a student as an English Language Learner the school begins to provide language development services. The quality and quantity of English language development services depend on the available language instructional models in the school. When a parent declines language instructional services they are declining ongoing instruction in the areas that a child needs instruction or support. 

Remember, that language instruction targets a student’s specific language need. I caution parents on declining services because this can reduce a child’s exposure to necessary instruction. Ongoing support from an ESL teacher can prepare a student to do well on the annual test.

Remember that identification begins when a parent completes the Home language survey form. The form helps schools and educators figure out language development needs.

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