The Migration Policy Institute issued a Limited English Proficient Population in the United States in 2015. The organization reported 61.6 million U.S. residents spoke languages other than English. Twenty-five million of this group had limited English proficiency. The federal agency says LEP refers to any person age five and older that don't speak or understand English well.
Eight million children (ages five and 17 years) old stay with at least one LEP parent or guardian. Almost 2.3 million of those children have LEP. The U.S. Department of Education refers to these students as English Learners (EL) or English-Language Learners (ELL).
According to the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, English Learners make up nine percent of all enrolled public school students. In today's Language Network guide, you'll learn about standards your school must implement to comply with federal and state laws.
Public School Systems Must Follow Federal Laws
The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued joint recommendations to public school districts and state education agencies. The document discussed the local school system's legal obligations to English Learners (EL). They reminded these local entities that they must ensure that "EL students can participate meaningfully and equally in educational programs."
There are two federal laws that school systems must follow. The first is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and the Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA).
School Districts' Responsibilities Under Title VI
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origins in programs that receive federal funding.
Agencies and institutions receiving financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) must adhere to Title VI. These include education agencies, their sub-recipients, vocational rehabilitation agencies for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. The nation has 17,000 local education systems, 4,700 colleges and universities, 10,000 proprietary institutions, libraries, museums, and other public institutions that receive ED funding.
Next, ED-funded activities and programs must provide their services in a non-discriminatory manner. These include admissions, academic programs, athletics, classroom assignment, discipline, guidance counseling, financial aid, grading, housing and employment, physical education, recreation, recruitment, student treatment, and services. The programs can't discriminate against persons that would benefit from federal funding.
Finally, schools can't retaliate against any person because:
- They're opposed to unlawful educational practices or policies.
- The persons testified or submitted a complaint action under Title VI.
Meaningful Education Access: The 1974 Lau v. Nichols Supreme Court Ruling
The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) desegregated following the 1971 Lee v. Johnson Supreme Court ruling. The system's administrators reintegrated 2,856 Chinese-speaking students. Only 1,000 students received supplemental English instruction after they enrolled. Many children who couldn't speak English fluently didn't progress. They remained in the same grades for years.
Attorney Edward Steinman approached the parents of Kinney Kinmon Lau and other Chinese-speaking students. He suggested they file a class action lawsuit against the SFUSD. The litigants argued that students didn't receive an equal education because of their inability to speak English. The parents believed the school district should provide supplemental instruction to students. They stated that students deserved equal protection as required by the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The laws banned discrimination in schools
Steinman argued the case before The District Court for the Northern District of California. The litigants lost: they appealed the case. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the decision. The litigants asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. On January 21, 1974, the Court ruled unanimously in favor of Lau and the other parents. They based their decision on Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The justices ruled that the SFUSD must provide equal educational access to EL students since the district is federally funded. The Supreme Court admitted the district provided equal access to all students. They noted the school district deprived EL learners of a meaningful education since the students couldn't understand class materials as well as their peers.
The justices also cited guidelines established by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1970. The OCR document stated people might use language as a proxy to discriminate against others based on their national origin. The Supreme Court ordered SFUSD to take affirmative steps to eliminate all language barriers and its open educational programs to all students.
The Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA)
Federal law requires California school districts to follow the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974. The legislation's section 1703(f) mandates state educational agencies (SEA) and school districts to take away barriers that prevent English Language Learners (ELL) from participating in educational programs. The DOJ and ED investigate complaints against SEA and school districts that don't provide adequate language assistance services. The agency also takes action against programs that don't assist ELL students.
Section 1703(f) doesn't ask schools to use a specific language acquisition program. Instead, the federal government tests the program's effectiveness. The federal government uses three rubrics to assess an ELL program. They see whether:
- The school bases its ELL program on accepted educational principles.
- Their campus' ELL program effectively uses educational theory.
- The program helps EL students overcome language barriers in a reasonable amount of time.
The federal government may take punitive action against SEA or school districts that don't offer language acquisition programs. Conditions that violate the EEOA include the following examples:
- The SEA doesn't provide enough resources to implement an effective language acquisition program. Their program lacks trained ESL teachers and educational materials.
- A program doesn't offer adequate language acquisition programs or services to ELL learners.
- A district doesn't take steps to identify students that aren't proficient in English.
- Educators withdraw an EL student out of services before they acquire English proficiency.
- Teachers don't communicate meaningfully with non-English-speaking or limited-English-speaking parents and guardians. For example, the school doesn't give translated written or oral translations documents to parents.
- The school excludes students from gifted and talented programs because of their limited English proficiency.
- An SEA doesn't offer language acquisition assistance to ELL students because they receive special education services. Additionally, the SEA may not give special education services to ELL students that qualify for them due to their language barrier. School districts must conduct proper assessments to find out if students need these services.
California's English Language Development Standards
In 2010, California's State Board of Education (SBE) adopted the California Common Core Standards of English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (CA CCSS for ELA Literacy). The requirements describe the language and vocabulary skills students needed for college. The bill's sponsors said the new standards apply to all students, including the state's EL learners.
The state government realized ELs needed instructional support to develop English language proficiency as they learned new content based on Common Core Standards. In response, the legislature passed Assembly Bill 124 on October 8, 2011. The bill required the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the SBE to update, revise, and align the current California English Language Development Standards (CA ELD Standards). The law required them to update each one by grade to meet the state's English Language Art Standards.
In response, the California Department of Education (CDE) with partnering with the state's Comprehensive Assistance Center at WestED and WestEd's Assessment and Standards Development Services Program. They developed a process to ensure the new CA ELD Standards followed state law. They grounded the process in two core areas.
- They should receive transparent input from the field to develop standards and programs. This process included a comprehensive review process by statewide focus groups, an expert panel, and public commenting sessions.
- They must use sound theory and empirical research to develop EL programs. The overlapping guidance areas are theoretical foundations, current empirical research and reviews, and relevant guidance and policy documents.
A Checklist for English Language Learner Programs
1. Identify and Assess All Potential EL Students
- School districts must identify potential EL students before they enroll. Conduct a home language survey that gathers students' background information. This research can help educators identify children from non-English speaking homes.
- Test EL students to assess their English language proficiency in speaking, comprehension, reading, and writing.
2. Provide Language Assistance to EL students
- SEAs must offer appropriate language assistance services to help EL students become proficient in English. Your SEA or educational program must help EL students participate in standard instructional programs within a reasonable time.
- School systems should give effective and educationally sound ELL instructional programs.
3. Staffing and Supporting EL Programs
- Each EL program must provide appropriate resources to teach students. Only hire highly qualified teachers, support staff, and institutional materials who must implement EL programs for students. Provide supplemental training to staff members whenever necessary.
4. Provide Meaningful Access to Curricular and Extracurricular Programs
- EL students must have equal access to grade-level curricula. These materials should help them meet the school's promotion and graduation requirements.
- Schools must provide EL learners with equal opportunities to participate in all educational programs. These include pre-kindergarten, magnet schools, gifted and talented programs, athletics, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate courses (IB), honor societies, and clubs.
5. Don't Segregate EL Students
- School districts can't segregate students based on their EL status or national origin. They can offer EL instruction during a small part of the day. School systems must accomplish their educational-related goals in the least segregative manner possible.
6. Evaluate EL Students for Special Education and Provide Dual Assistance
- EL students with disabilities should receive language assistance and disability-related services. Federal law entitles students to both services.
- Some EL students may require special services because of their disability. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires schools to identify and evaluate the needs of students with disabilities. Schools should offer disability-related services to help them.
- Schools should avoid mislabeling EL students as disabled because of their limited English proficiency. The school must evaluate students in an appropriate language to identify their language skills and educational needs.
- Educators should design individual plans that provide special-education courses and disability-related services for EL students. The planning team should have knowledgeable participants that can address the EL student's language needs.
7. Meet the Needs of Students That Opt-Out of EL Programs and Services
- Some EL parents may decide to opt their kids out of EL program and services, even if their child qualifies.
- School systems can't recommend that parents opt out of EL services. Advisers should tell EL parents about their child's educational rights in a language they can comprehend. The school system should document if the EL parents made an informed decision to remove their child from an EL program.
- The school district must provide EL students with access to educational programs even if the parent removes them from EL programs. Educators have to monitor their progress. They should offer EL assistance if the student continues to struggle.
8. Monitoring and Exiting ELL Students from EL Programs
- Schools must monitor EL student progress to ensure they learn English an acquire content knowledge. All districts must monitor the child's English-language proficiency in reading, writing, comprehension, and speaking. They must meet California's ELD Standards.
- Students can't leave an EL program, services or change their status until he/she becomes proficient in English. They must first pass an ELP assessment in reading, speaking, comprehension, and writing.
- Educators should track the academic progress of former EL students for two years to ensure they didn't prematurely leave the program. Educators must address all academic deficits resulting from the EL program. They should also meaningfully participate in educational programs comparable to other students who didn't attend EL programs (never-EL peers).
9. Evaluate the Effectiveness of School's EL Programs
- Districts must design EL Programs to enable students to attain English proficiency. The program should allow students to meaningfully participate in the standard educational curriculum compared to their never-El peers.
- Schools must compare the academic performance of the EL program's past and current students to never-EL peers.
- Districts must evaluate EL programs using accurate data assessments that measure the educational performance of current and former students in a reliable way.
10. Ensuring Meaningful Communication with Limited English Proficient Parent
- Limited English proficiency parents must receive meaningful communications in a language they can understand. Schools should offer translated materials or a language interpreter to parents. They must give LEP parents the same notices about programs, services, and activities that other parents receive. Language assistance must be free and provided by appropriate staff or through competent outside resources.
Educators should provide translated materials to parents that include:
- Registration and enrollment in schools and educational programs
- Language assistance programs
- Report cards
- Student discipline reports and policies
- Special education policies and procedures
- Special education and related services and meetings to discuss them
- Parent-teacher conferences
- Grievance procedures and notices of nondiscrimination
- Parent handbooks
- Gifted and talented programs
- Magnet and charter schools
- Requests for parent permission for student participation in school activities
- Trained interpreters and translators should be bilingual. They must understand education-related terms and concepts when speaking with LEP parents. All translators must abide by the ethics of interpretation. Additionally, they must maintain LEP parents' confidentiality.
- Hire competent bilingual staff members who can communicate with LEP parents. Some bilingual speakers are poor translators that can't write clear documents.
For more tips, download the U.S DOJ and ED's Information for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Parents and Guardians and for School Districts that Communicate with Them. Language Network can provide schools with translation services you can trust. We have a network of trained interpreters that offer language support for more than 200 languages. Contact us to request your free translation quote today. You can also call our offices at (949) 733-2446.