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What does legislation say about educating and assessing ELLs?

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first piece of federal legislation to address the needs and rights of speakers of other languages in public education, asserting that school districts are responsible for providing equal educational opportunities to national origin minority students with limited English proficiency (LEP). Since then there has been additional legislation to further clarify the distribution of funding and the responsibilities of educators in addressing the education of LEP students, the most recent being the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB). The overall stated purpose of NCLB is “To close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so
that no child is left behind.”

Challenging Standards for English and Content Area Instruction

NCLB requires states to establish challenging academic content standards for all students, and Title III of this act indicates that ELLs are not exempt from meeting these high expectations. It asserts that English learners must develop English proficiency and skills for high academic achievement in English WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY MEETING the same challenging State standards that all students are required to meet.

There are numerous resources on the web for learning more about these standards.

  • Each state creates its own standards documents for all content areas, including English language instruction. Pennsylvania’s standards can be downloaded by clicking on Academic Standards on the PDE website:
  • TESOL, the professional organization for English language teachers, has outlined standards for ESL instruction that are also available online at
  • In accordance with the requirements of Title III, Pennsylvania is currently creating a document, the English Language Proficiency Standards for English Language Learners, to complement the existing PA Academic Standards. This document does not replace the Academic Standards, but will help all ESL specialists and general classroom teachers ensure that ELLs have full access to the content curricula during all stages of English language development. It will be available in January 2005 on the PDE website:

Accountability through Assessment

CLB also calls for accountability in meeting State standards through high quality assessments. Schools must not only demonstrate improvements in students’ English proficiency each school year, but also demonstrate that English learners are making the same “adequate yearly progress” as other students. As a result, ELLs must participate in annual State assessments:

See Appendix 1 for further details on what parents of ELLs should expect from schools under No Child Left Behind.

Resource Guide for Working with ESL Students
Who are English Language Learners? What does legislation say about educating and assessing ELLs? The Politics of Language What patterns does English language development typically follow? What are common program models for ESL education? What does the ESL specialist need from me? How can I support ELLs in my classroom? Conclusion Resources Appendix 1: Declaration of Rights for Parents of English Language Learners under No Child Left Behind Appendix 2: Legislation of the 108th Congress concerning Foreign Languages and International Education Appendix 3: Six Levels of Minority Language Policy