When your child is an English learner, it can be confusing and difficult to understand whether they are progressing normally toward proficiency in the language and what they need to do to be reclassified as fluent and English proficient.
Here’s a quick guide to how schools classify students as English learners, what they have to provide for students to help them learn English, what criteria they take into account in reclassifying them as proficient in English, and why reclassification matters.
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Why Was My Child Classified as an English Learner?
When children are first enrolled in school, their parents or guardians are asked to fill out a survey about which language the child learned when they first began to talk, which language they most frequently speak at home and which language parents and guardians use most frequently when speaking with them.
If a language other than English is spoken in the home, the school is required to assess the student’s level of English within 30 days after enrollment by giving them a test called the English Language Proficiency Assessment of California. The test measures students’ abilities in reading, writing, speaking and understanding spoken English.
If the test results show the child speaks, listens, writes and reads English fluently, at an age-appropriate level, the school classifies them as “initial fluent English proficient.” If the test results show that they do not speak, listen, read and write English fluently, at an age-appropriate level, the school classifies them as an English learner.
Students classified as English learners must retake the ELPAC each spring until the school determines that they have reached proficiency in English.
You can read more about the ELPAC and take a practice test here: https://www.elpac.org/resources/practicetests/#practice-training-tests.
Students who have significant cognitive disabilities are given a different test, the Alternate English Language Proficiency Assessment of California.
(This article originally appeared on EdSource.)
What Kind of Instruction Must the School Provide to English Learners?
Schools are required to provide English learners instruction to help them learn English, called English language development.
English language development must be provided both while teaching other subjects in the classroom (this is called integrated ELD) and during a specific time during the school day focused just on learning English (this is called designated ELD). The state does not mandate a specific number of minutes, instead expecting schools to decide that based on the student’s needs.
You can watch some videos here of English language development for different grades, prepared by the California Department of Education.
How Will the School Decide When My Child Is Proficient in English?
Schools must use four reclassification criteria to decide whether a student is proficient in English. Students must achieve an overall score of 4 on the ELPAC, or, if they have significant cognitive disabilities, 3 on the Alternate ELPAC.
In addition, the district or charter school must take into account both the teacher’s evaluation and parents’ opinion and look at how the student is doing in academic subjects such as math and English language arts, compared to English-speaking peers. Each district or charter school makes its own rules about how to measure these last three criteria.
How Long Should It Take for My Child to Learn English Fluently?
Research shows it normally takes students between four and seven years to learn academic English proficiently.
What If It Takes Longer for My Child to Learn English?
If it takes longer than six years for a student to be reclassified, they will be classified as a long-term English learner. Long-term English learners often struggle in school, because while they often know how to speak English, they have not yet mastered writing and reading academic English.
As long as a student remains classified as an English learner, the school is required to provide them with English language development classes. If they are in middle or high school, they may not have time in their schedule to enroll in elective classes like art and music or Advanced Placement courses.
What Will Happen When My Child Is Reclassified?
When a student is reclassified as “fluent English proficient,” they are no longer considered an English learner and will no longer be required to take English language development classes. The child’s school must still monitor their academic progress for the next four years.
My Child Is Enrolled in a Dual-Language Immersion Program. How Will That Affect Their English Language Development?
Research has shown that dual-language immersion programs can be very effective at helping students learn English. Sometimes these programs take longer to teach students English, but by the end of elementary school, more students in these programs have achieved fluency than in English-only programs.
In addition, dual-language immersion programs help students keep their home language and learn to read and write academically in their home language, making them bilingual.
What Can I Do as a Parent to Make Sure My Child Is Learning English?
Look for your child’s ELPAC scores, which should be sent by mail to your home or can be found on an online district portal. Pay attention to all four parts (listening, speaking, reading and writing).
Talk to your child’s teacher about how your child is doing with listening, speaking, writing and reading in English, which skills they should work on, and what kind of English language development they are receiving at school.
Ask when the ELPAC will be given, and remind your child of the importance of trying their best on this test. Sometimes students get tired of taking the test, especially when they are older, and they don’t understand the importance of doing well on it so they can be reclassified as fluent in English.
Keep reading, speaking and singing with your child in your home language. This will help them with skills they can transfer to English, and will help make them fully bilingual.
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