Policy Information


  • LEP – Limited English Proficient (term in law)
  • EL – English learner (people-first term)
  • ELP – English language proficiency
  • ELPA – English language proficiency assessment
  • ELD – English language development
  • NCLB – the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
  • Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAOs) – accountability indicators in Title III
  • Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) – set of accountability indicators in Title I

graduation capWho is an EL/LEP student?

Based on the definition provided in Title IX of NCLB, an English learner (EL) is a person between the ages of 3 and 21 who is enrolled or plans to enroll in a US school, who is a non-native speaker of English, and who lacks the English language skills (reading, writing, speaking, or listening) necessary to participate meaningfully in a school setting where English is the language of instruction. This may include students who are recent immigrants, or the children of recent immigrants; are refugees, or the children of refugees; are Native American or Alaskan Natives; or have parents or siblings who are known to speak a language other than English in the home.

The principle tenets for identifying ELs hold that this identification must (a) occur on an individual, student-level basis and (b) be based on an individual student's actual linguistic needs.

A student who is a member of one of the groups noted above cannot be considered an EL unless he or she has demonstrated limited English proficiency.

Like all other students, ELs have a right to high quality education opportunities and states, districts, and schools are required to provide services to help these students attain English language proficiency. This requirement is based on protection of students' civil and constitutional rights, so is basic and unrelated to the receipt of Title I or Title III funds.

building column Specific Federal Requirements for Programs that Serve ELs

Title III is a section of No Child Left Behind that specifically addresses programs and services to support ELs' attainment of English language proficiency (ELP). NCLB requires states to assess each EL's ELP annually; this requirement is imposed under both Title I and Title III, although different English language proficiency assessments (ELPAs) could be used to meet Title I and Title III requirements. Each state must adopt or develop an ELPA that is aligned with that state's ELP standards. ELP standards must reflect the academic English language that is expressed or inherent within the academic content standards in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science. Only Title III specifically requires separate scores for the four domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, plus a comprehension score that can be based on some combination of reading and listening items.

The ELPA is the only assessment required under NCLB that is associated with student-level stakes: based on a student's scores, he or she can be exited from language support services. Scores on a "screener" assessment, which may be an abbreviated form of the ELPA, must be used in the identification process. At present, there is no plan for the peer review of any language assessments used for identification or accountability purposes for ELs. Although parents/guardians may refuse language support services for their child, every student identified as limited English proficient (LEP) must take part in the ELPA until they meet the exit criteria, whether they participate in a formal language support program or not.

Titles I and III require each EL's participation in annual academic content assessments in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science. ELs may be exempted from the reading/language arts assessment during their first year of enrollment in a US school. Participation in the ELPA counts as participation in the reading/language arts assessment, but scores from the ELPA are not substituted for reading/language arts scores.

ELs in their first year of enrollment must participate in the mathmetics and science assessments that are administered in their grade.

Reading/language arts and mathematics scores for ELs in their first year of enrollment do not have to be used inadequate yearly progress (AYP) calculations, but do have to be reported.


Title III holds states and LEAs accountable for meeting three accountability targets, called annual measurable achievement objectives, or AMAOs. Accountability is at the program-level; there is no school-level accountability requirement.

  • AMAO 1 = percent of students making progress in attaining ELP
  • AMAO 2 = percent of students meeting the attainment criterion (exit)
  • AMAO 3 = EL student group AYP outcome

AMAOs 1 and 2 must be based on ELPA scores, but can include other information. The US Department of Education released a "Notice of Interpretations" that outlines its expectations for AMAOs in October 2008, and many states will have/have had to modify their AMAO definitions to comply with these expectations. If a local education agency (LEA) fails to meet its AMAOs for four consecutive years, the LEA is required to modify its curriculum, program, and method of instruction or replace educational personnel relevant to the LEA's failure to meet their objectives.

book with handCurriculum and Instruction

The federal government does not endorse any specific instructional programs to help ELs attain proficiency. There are, however, a few stipulations regarding the structure and goals of LEP programming; programs must:

  • Rely on "scientifically-based research" that demonstrates the program's effectiveness in increasing English proficiency and student academic achievement in the core academic subjects;
  • Have the overall goal of overcoming language barriers so that ELs may catch up to their non-EL peers (i.e., cannot be a dead end track);
  • Integrate students with the general student population (i.e., ELs cannot be permanently or completely separated from non-ELs); and
  • NOT place ELs in special education programs based solely on their language skills.

It is up to the state and/or district to evaluate their own programs to make sure they are effective in supporting ELs in attaining both English language proficiency and mastery of academic content knowledge and skills.

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