How is an "English language learner" defined in state policy?

How is an "English language learner" defined in state policy?

November 2014


There are a number of definitions for students in language development programs, such as “English language learner,” “English learner,” and “dual language learners,” among others.

Many states define “English language learner” in state policy either with a state-created definition or the federal definition (“limited English proficient”). Some states define the term in the department of education’s guidebook, and few states do not define the term at all, defaulting to the federal definition.
 
Unless otherwise noted, all information in this resource was gathered from state statutes only and does not include policies in state-level guidance documents or arising from court orders.
 

How is an "English language learner" defined in state policy?
Federal Law Federal law defines a "limited English proficient" student as a student:
  • who is aged 3 through 21;
  • who is enrolled or preparing to enroll in an elementary school or secondary school;
  • who was not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English;
  • who is a Native American or Alaska Native, or a native resident of the outlying areas; and
  • who comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the individual's level of English language proficiency; or
  • who is migratory, whose native language is a language other than English, and who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; and
  • whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual —
    • the ability to meet the State's proficient level of achievement on State assessments;
    • the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; or
    • the opportunity to participate fully in society.
Alabama
Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Alaska
“Limited English proficient pupil” or “LEP pupil” is defined as an individual who:
  • Is between 3 and 21 years old;
  • Is enrolled or preparing to enroll in an elementary school or secondary school;
  • Falls into one or more of the following categories:
    • An individual not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English;
    • An American Indian, Alaska Native, or native resident of the outlying areas who comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the individual's level of English language proficiency; and
    • Whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual the ability to obtain a proficiency level of proficient or advanced on the state assessments in reading and writing or in reading and language arts, the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English, or the opportunity to participate fully in society.
Arizona “English learner” or “limited English proficient student” means a student who does not speak English or whose native language is not English and who is not currently able to perform standard classroom work in English.
Arkansas
“English-language learner” mean a student identified by the state board as not proficient in the English language based upon approved English proficiency assessment instruments administered annually in the fall of the current school year, which assessments measure oral, reading, and writing proficiency.
California
“English learner” means a child who does not speak English or whose native language is not English and who is not currently able to perform ordinary classroom work in English, also known as a "Limited English Proficiency" or LEP child.
Colorado
“English language learner” is defined as a student who is linguistically diverse and who is identified as having a level of English language proficiency that requires language support to achieve standards in grade-level content in English.
Connecticut “Eligible children” are defined as children enrolled in public schools in grades K-12 where programs of bilingual education are required, whose dominant language is other than English, and whose proficiency in English is not sufficient to assure equal educational opportunity in the regular school program. Bilingual education programs are required in schools with 20 or more eligible children.

According to the department of education, the state's ELL programs are governed by state statutes, the department's ELL guidebook and federal law. The department also indicates that relevant policies codified in the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies pertain to a repealed statute and are not followed.
Delaware
"English language learners" are students with limited English proficiency, also referred to as "limited English proficient" students. ELLs are individuals who, by reason of foreign birth or ancestry, speak a language other than English, and either comprehend, speak, read or write little or no English, or who have been identified by a valid English language proficiency assessment approved by the department of education for use statewide.
District of Columbia
Non-English or Limited English Proficient (NEP/LEP) Student is defined as a language minority student with a non-English/limited-English language proficiency that does not allow the student to participate in the general program of the school. Language Minority Student is defined as a student who understands or speaks a language other than English which was learned from his or her family background, or a student with a family background where a language other than English is spoken in the home.
Florida “Limited English proficient” or “limited English proficiency,” when used with reference to an individual, means:
  • An individual who was not born in the United States and whose native language is a language other than English; or
  • An individual who comes from a home environment where a language other than English is spoken; or
  • An individual who is an American Indian or Alaskan Native and who comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on his or her level of English language proficiency; and
  • Who has sufficient difficulty speaking, reading, writing, or listening to the English language to deny him or her the opportunity to learn successfully in classrooms where the language of instruction is English.
Georgia
"English learners" are defined as students whose primary or home language is other than English and who are eligible for services based on the results of an English language proficiency assessment.
Hawaii Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Idaho Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Illinois
“English learner” means any student in preK through grade 12, whose home language background is a language other than English and whose proficiency in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding English is not yet sufficient to provide the student with:
  • The ability to meet the state's proficient level of achievement on state assessments;
  • The ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; or
  • The opportunity to participate fully in the school setting.
Terms “limited English proficient student” and “students with limited English proficiency,” as used in state law, are understood to be “English learners.”
Indiana "English language learners" are students who have difficulty performing in classes conducted solely in English for one or more of the following reasons:
  • The student’s native tongue is not English; 
  • The language spoken most often by the student is not English; or
  • The language spoken most often in the student’s home is not English. 
Iowa
“Limited English proficient” refers to a student who has a language background other than English, and the proficiency in English is such that the probability of the student's academic success in an English-only classroom is below that of an academically successful peer with an English language background.
Kansas
“Limited English proficient pupils” are defined as national origin-minority pupils who because of their inability to speak, read, write and/or understand the English language are excluded from effective participation in the educational programs offered by a school district.
Kentucky Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Louisiana
"Limited English proficient student" is defined as a student who is aged 3 through 21; who has been enrolled in an English-speaking elementary school or secondary school for less than a year; who was not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English; who is a Native American or Alaska Native or a native resident of the outlying areas and comes from an environment where a language other than English has had significant impact on his level of English language proficiency; or who is migratory, whose native language is a language other than English, and who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; and whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny them:
  • The ability to meet the state's proficient level of achievement on state assessments;
  • The ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; or
  • The opportunity to participate fully in society.
An "English language learner" is defined as a child who is working to learn a second language (English) while continuing to develop his or her first (or home) language.
Maine Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Maryland
 “Non-English or limited-English proficient" (NEP/LEP) means a student who:
  • Was born outside the United States or whose native language is not English;
  • Comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; or
  • Is an American Indian or Alaskan Native and comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the student's level of English language proficiency.
Massachusetts
“English learner” means a child who does not speak English or whose native language is not English, and who is not currently able to perform ordinary classroom work in English.
Michigan
"Children of limited English-speaking ability” means children who have or reasonably may be expected to have difficulty performing ordinary classwork in English because their native tongue is a language other than English or because they come from a home or environment where the primary language used is a language other than English.
Minnesota
“English learner” means a pupil in grade K-12 who meets the following requirements: 
  • As declared by a parent or guardian, first learned a language other than English, comes from a home where the language usually spoken is other than English, or usually speaks a language other than English; and
  • Is determined by a valid assessment measuring the pupil's English language proficiency and by developmentally appropriate measures, which might include observations, teacher judgment, parent recommendations, or developmentally appropriate assessment instruments, to lack the necessary English skills to participate fully in academic classes taught in English.
Mississippi
Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Missouri Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Montana
"Student with limited English proficiency” means any student:
  • Who was not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English;
  • Who is an American Indian and who comes from an environment in which a language other than English has had a significant impact on his or her level of English proficiency; or
  • Who is migratory, whose native language is a language other than English, and who comes from an environment in which a language other than English is dominant; and
  • Whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the student:
    • The ability to meet the state's proficiency assessments;
    • The ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; or
    • The opportunity to participate fully in society.
Nebraska A "limited English proficient" student is a student who was not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English; or who is migratory, whose native language is a language other than English, and who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; and whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual the ability to achieve in a classroom taught in English, the ability to score proficient on the state assessment, and/or the opportunity to participate fully in society.
Nevada
“English language learner” is a student whose primary language is not English and whose English proficiency is below the average proficiency of peers whose primary language is English. Because of this limited proficiency, an ELL has an impaired probability of success in a classroom taught only in English. 
New Hampshire "English language learner" means a student who has a predominant language other than English or who is educationally disadvantaged by a limited English proficiency, and who is receiving regularly scheduled English language instruction.
New Jersey "Limited English proficient students" are defined as students from PreK through grade 12 whose primary language is other than English and who have difficulty performing ordinary class work in English due to difficulty speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language as measured by an English language proficiency test.
New Mexico “English language learner” means a student whose first or heritage language is not English and who is unable to read, write, speak or understand English at a level comparable to grade level English proficient peers and native English speakers.
New York Pupils with "limited English proficiency" or ELLs are pupils who speak a language other than English by reason of foreign birth or ancestry and either understand and speak little English or score below a specific threshold on a proficiency exam.

Starting in 2015-2016, the following categories are added:
  • "Newcomer English language learners"-- students who have been identified as ELLs and received English as a new language instruction and/or bilingual instruction for a total of zero to three continuously enrolled school years in the U.S.
  • "Students with inconsistent/interrupted formal education" -- ELLs who have attended schools in the U.S. for fewer than 12 months and who, upon initial enrollment, are two or more years below grade level in literacy in their home language and/or two or more years below grade level in math due to inconsistent or interrupted schooling prior to arrival in the United States.
  • "Developing English language learners" -- students who have been identified as ELLs and received English as a new language instruction and/or bilingual instruction for a total of four to six continuously enrolled school years in the U.S.
  • "Long-term English language learners" -- students identified as ELLs and received English as a new language and/or bilingual instruction for seven or more continuously enrolled school years in the U.S.
  • "Former Engish language learners" -- students identified as ELLs and subsequently exited from ELL status.
North Carolina Not specified in state policy
North Dakota "English language learner" means a student who is at least five years of age but has not reached the age of 21 before August first of the year of enrollment; is enrolled in a school district in the state; has a primary language other than English or comes from an environment in which a language other than English significantly impacts the level of English language proficiency; and has difficulty speaking, reading, writing, and understanding English, as evidenced by an approved language proficiency test.
Ohio A “limited English proficient student” is a student who is aged three through 21; is enrolled or preparing to enroll in an elementary or secondary school; whose native language is a language other than English, or a native American or migrant who comes from an environment where another language has had a significant impact on the student's English proficiency; and whose difficulties speaking, reading, writing, or understanding English may deny the student to meet the proficient level of achievement on proficiency or achievement tests, the ability to achieve successfully in classrooms where the language of instruction is English, or the opportunity to participate fully in society.
Oklahoma State policy uses the federal definition.
Oregon State policy uses the federal definition.
Pennsylvania Not specified in state policy.
Rhode Island An "English language learner" is defined as a student:
  • Whose first language is not English or who speaks a variety of English so distinct that ELL instruction is necessary; 
  • Who is now learning English, but
  • Who has not yet attained enough proficiency in English to allow him or her to fully profit from content area instruction conducted only in English.
South Carolina Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
South Dakota State policy uses the federal definition.
Tennessee Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Texas A person who is in the process of acquiring English and has another language as the first native language. The terms "English language learner" and "limited English proficient student" are used interchangeably.
Utah “English Language Learner/Limited English Proficient (ELL/LEP)” means a student:
  • Who has sufficient difficulty speaking, reading and writing or understanding the English language and whose difficulties may deny him or her the opportunity to learn successfully in classrooms where the language of instruction is English or which may deny him or her the opportunity to participate fully in society; or
  • Who was not born in the U.S. or whose native language is a language other than English and who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; or
  • Who is an American Indian or Alaskan Native or who is a native resident of the outlying areas and comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on his or her level of English language proficiency.
Vermont Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Virginia Governed by the department of education’s ELL guidebook or federal law rather than state policy.
Washington An "eligible student" for purposes of the transitional bilingual program is a student whose primary language is other than English and whose English skills are sufficiently deficient or absent to impair learning.
West Virginia State policy uses the federal definition.
Wisconsin “Limited-English proficient pupil” is a student whose ability to use the English language is limited because of the use of a non-English language in his or her family or in his or her daily, nonschool surroundings, and who has difficulty performing ordinary classwork in English and with reading, writing, speaking or comprehending in English within the academic classroom setting because of his or her limited English language proficiency.
Wyoming Not specified in state policy


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