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Frequently Asked Questions About ELLs


I've spent some time this week browsing Colorin Colorado, a Web site with resources for teachers of English-language learners and their families, and I think it has some really useful information. You can subscribe to e-mail alerts from the site here.

Since I've started this blog, I've begun to get some requests from parents of English-language learners who are having questions about their children's education. A mother of a child adopted from Guatemala, for example, doesn't understand why her 11-year-old daughter seems to understand everything that she says in English, but doesn't try to speak the language. The child has been in the United States for three months. Another mom, who is Hispanic and doesn't speak Spanish, writes to ask how she can get her son out of an English-as-a-second-language class because his first language is English; she said the school placed her child in the class because she had mentioned the family's ethnic background in a home-language survey. Educators at her child's school don't seem to be aware that she has the right to decide where her child is placed, guaranteed by the No Child Left Behind Act.

For such requests, I refer people back to experts in their own states. I'm not an expert myself, but rather report what other experts tell me in interviews.

It seems that Colorin Colorado can be a source to provide answers to some of these practical questions. The Web site has some useful tips for parents, here, on how to seek extra help for their children at school. And it also provides some answers to questions frequently asked by educators. One can also find the most important research reports on ELLs on the Web site.

The Web site is sponsored by WETA, the public broadcasting station here in the Washington, D.C., area, and gets funding from various sources, including the American Federation of Teachers.

The site does not, by the way, provide much insight on the implications for ELLs of the No Child Left Behind Act or other educational policy. Under the section "Policy, NCLB, & AYP," it lists only three articles. For information on educational policy affecting ELLs, I hope you'll keep turning to this blog.

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Regarding the parent concerned about inappropriate placement: Indicating ethnicity does not lead to placement into ESL programs. The parent should challenge the placement if that is the reason. Perhaps the parent filled out the form incorrectly or the school read it incorrectly. I wonder what the parent has done at the school level to challenge the decision.

Another question included on the Home Language Survey is if a language other than English is spoken at home. Indicating a language other than English spoken at home is not reason enough for a school to place a student in an ESL program. The school must demonstrate that the student requires these services by means of placement testing. The parent would also be advised that the testing is to occur.


Rochelle is right. Here are the three questions on the Florida Home Language Survey:

• Is a language other than English used in the home?
• Did the student have a first language other than English?
• Does the student most frequently speak a language other than English?

Each student for whom there is a “yes” response to any question shall be assessed.

Any student designated as LEP shall receive appropriate instruction and funding.

Families may request such determination.


So, there is the policy. However, we see numerous examples of when students answer "yes" to any of these questions that they are automatically placed in an ESOL class.

So, remember (like Johnny Cochran), if the answer is YES, you must ASSESS.

Eric Dwyer
Florida International University

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