English Language Learners

Guofang Li & Wenxia Wang. 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Editor: Thomas L Good. Sage Publication. 2008.

In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of people in the U.S. from ethnic or racial minorities has risen from 47 million in 2000 to more than 100 million, or around one third of the population. The fastest-growing groups are the Hispanic population (at a rate of 3.4% annually) and the Asians at an annual rate of 3.2% (Reuters, 2007). The growth in immigrant populations or language minorities has drastically changed the student compositions in U.S. schools. There were about 1.3 million language minority students, accounting for approximately 3% of the school student population in 1990. In 2001, it increased to 4.5 million, taking up approximately 9.6% of the total PreK-12 enrollment (Kindler, 2002). It is projected that by 2015, about 30% of the school-aged population in the United States will be language minorities.

The changing demographics have posed unprecedented challenges for the public school system to accommodate a variety of needs for English language learners (ELLs) including their sociolinguistic, sociocul-tural, and socioemotional development. To date, there is a consensus among educators that to successfully address the increasingly diverse student populations and ensure language minority students’ academic achievement, school instruction must be culturally responsive or reciprocal to students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds (Au, 1993; Li, 2006). For teachers and schools to be culturally reciprocal to students’ diverse backgrounds, it is essential that they learn who the students are, what factors influence their learning inside and outside school, and what kinds of resources are available to these learners. To this end, in this chapter, we provide an overview of the issues related to ELLs. We first present a brief description of how language learners are defined in literature and types of instructional programs available to them. Following this, we discuss factors that affect the academic achievement of ELLs, effective instructional strategies to overcome these factors, and the assessment of ELLs. Finally, we conclude the chapter with suggestions for future directions in the field.

ELLs: Who They Are and How They Are Identified

ELLs are also referred to as students with limited English proficiency (LEP) in the educational literature and documents in the United States. Although these terms are used interchangeably, in recent years, the term English language learners has become the preferred term among educators and researchers instead of LEP because of the latter term’s negative connotation (Evans & Hornberger, 2005). In this chapter, both ELLs and LEP students are used to reflect the usages in different reports.

In general, ELLs are those who speak language(s) other than English at home and who learn English as the dominant language of the media and education in the host culture. In a report released by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), LEP or ELL students are defined as

individuals who were not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English; individuals who come from environments where a language other than English is dominant; or individuals who are American Indians or Alaskan Natives and who come from environments where a language other than English has had a significant impact on their level of English language proficiency; and who, by reason thereof, have sufficient difficulty speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language to deny such individuals the opportunity to learn successfully in classrooms where the language of instruction is English or to participate fully in our society. (Sable, Thomas, & Sietsema, 2006, p. c-5)

Although there is an official definition of ELLs, there are no standard operational ways to identify ELLs. Most states and school districts use home language surveys and a variety of formal and informal assessments to identify the learners including teacher observation and interviews, and parent information forms, student records, student grades, informal and formal assessment, and referrals. Among the formal assessments, the most commonly used tests are the Language Assessment Scales (LAS), the IDEA Language Proficiency Test (IPT), and the Wood-cock-Munoz Language Survey (Woodcock-Munoz). Some states use standardized tests such as Stanford Achievement Test (SAT 9) and Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), but many other states develop placement tests on their own (Kindler, 2002).

Because there are no standard operational ways to identify ELLs, the cutoffs vary widely across the states that use standardized tests for identification. Texas, for example, used a 23rd-percentile cutoff on its achievement test for classifying LEP students, and Illinois used the 50th per-centile as its cutoff. Further variation also existed in the kinds of criteria used. Some states based classification on oral language only, whereas others assessed all four skill areas (listening, speaking, reading, and writing).

The variation in state cutoff standards suggest that the number of reported LEP students may understate the number of students who are not fluent in English. Further, many researchers have found that some of the identification criteria may not be appropriate for ELLs with learning disabilities. Many identification criteria fail to distinguish between learning disabilities (LDs) and learning difficulties due primarily to contextual factors and second-language learning, often resulting in an overrepresentation of ELLs in special education classes (Lesaux, 2006). Differential or inaccurate identification, especially for students with learning disabilities, will affect the kinds of services and programs that students will be placed in and will inevitably affect their potential to achieve success in U.S. schools. These issues in identification suggest that more systematic, appropriate identification criteria need to be developed at the federal level and enacted at the states’ level.

After the students are identified, they are placed in a program of instruction. Usually, parents are informed about the identification process and the placement, assessment results, the methods of instruction used in the program in which the student will be enrolled, the design of the program in addressing the learners’ needs, and the requirements to exit the program.

Programs and Services for ELLs

There are a variety of programs and services available for ELLs in different states and districts. In any given state or district, several factors such as student population to be served, individual student characteristics, and district resources influence the kinds of program that will be designed to operate (McKeon, 1987; Rennie, 1993). In terms of student population, district or school demographics (e.g., the total number of language minority students, the number of students from each language background, and their distribution across grades and schools) will influence the selection of the type of programs to be implemented. Student characteristics (e.g., whether students have prior schooling experience in their native language, age, cultural and socioeconomic status [SES] backgrounds) can also be a significant factor in shaping the types of programs needed. Finally, district or school resources (e.g., infrastructure, personnel, and materials resources) also influence the ways in which services are allotted to ELLs (McKeon, 1987; Rennie, 1993).

Programs serving ELL populations generally include English as a second language (ESL) programs and bilingual programs. ESL programs are likely to be used in districts or schools where the language minority students’ home languages are diverse, while bilingual programs serve mostly districts or schools with a large number of students from the same home language background. Because in the United States the majority of language minority students are of Hispanic background, most bilingual programs are Spanish-English programs. In recent years, with the large influx of Chinese immigrants in some big cities such as New York and San Francisco, some Chinese-English programs have been established. In recent years, however, the number of bilingual programs has been decreasing as there has been a national movement toward English-only programs (e.g., in states such as California and Massachusetts).

In elementary schools, ESL programs generally follow a pullout model. In this model, ELLs are placed in a regular class for the major portion of the day and are pulled out for a specified amount of time each day to receive intensive instruction in English and support in other academic areas from an ESL teacher.

In recent years, however, many elementary schools have increasingly adopted a push-in model, also called “mainstream classroom instruction/co-teaching.” In this model, instead of removing students from their mainstream class, ESL teachers come to students’ mainstream classroom to provide ESL instruction and support to the ESL students. In a co-teaching approach, both teachers (ESL and mainstream) contract to share instructional responsibility for a single group of students with mutual ownership, pooled resources, and joint accountability although each individual’s level of participation may vary. This inclusionary model reduces the time ELLs are removed from the classroom for small-group instruction.

In the middle or high school, a scheduled ESL class period is generally used. Students receive ESL instruction during a regular class period while receiving course credit. They may be grouped for instruction according to their level of English proficiency. In some cases, an ESL resource center is established. The center is a variation of the pullout design, bringing students together from several classrooms or schools. The resource center concentrates ESL materials and staff in one location and is usually staffed by at least one full-time ESL teacher (Rennie, 1993).

In addition to these programs, two other program models, structured immersion programs and sheltered English or content-based programs (used either in elementary- or secondary-level schools) are available. In structured immersion programs, only English is used and no explicit ESL instruction is provided. Teachers in these programs are generally bilingual or have strong receptive skills in their students’ first language. The teachers’ use of the children’s first language is limited primarily to clarification of English instruction (Rennie, 1993). In sheltered English or content-based programs, ELLs from different language backgrounds are grouped together in classes where teachers use English as the medium for providing content area instruction. The teachers who are trained in second-language acquisition, but not necessarily bilingual, adapt their instruction (e.g., using more visual aids or simplify the language of instruction) to the proficiency level of the students (Echevarria & Graves, 2003). These adapted content classes allow LEP students to learn English and academic content at the same time.

Similar to ESL programs, there are also a variety of bilingual program models, including early-exit, late-exit, and two-way/dual-language bilingual programs. Early-exit bilingual programs are designed to help children acquire the English skills required to succeed in an English-only mainstream classroom. These programs provide some initial instruction in the students’ first language, primarily for the introduction of reading, but also for clarification (Rennie, 1993). They are characterized by the continuous increase in the use of English and corresponding decrease in the use of the native language for the purpose of instruction. English is used more than half of the instructional time by the end of the first year and most students are quickly mainstreamed thereafter. Late-exit programs differ from early-exit programs in the amount and duration that English is used for instruction as well as the length of time students participate in each program. Students remain in late-exit programs throughout elementary school and continue to receive 40% or more of their instruction in their first language, even when they have been reclassified as fluent-English proficient (Rennie, 1993).

These two bilingual programs, however, have been under criticism for their effectiveness. One important criticism is that these programs serve to segregate language minority students from their majority peers. To address this sociopolitical issue, two-way bilingual programs, also called dual-language programs, are established. The dual-language programs refers to an enrichment bilingual/ multicultural education program in which language equity is structurally defined as equal time exposure to two languages (English and the minority language), that is, the 50/50 model with each language receiving half of the instructional time (Torres-Guzman, 2002). In these programs, language minority students from a single language background are grouped together in the same classroom with language majority (English-speaking) students. Native English speakers and speakers of another language have the opportunity to acquire proficiency in a second language while continuing to develop their native language skills. Students serve as native-speaker role models for their peers and their native language ability is viewed as a resource (Rennie, 1993; Torres-Guzman, 2002). These programs are reported to have achieved more success than the other two types of bilingual programs and have become more popular in some states in recent years.

Factors That Influence ELLs’ Learning

The above programs are designed to help ELLs achieve high levels of English proficiency as well as academic success. However, the literacy outcomes for ELLs have been reported to be discouraging. According to August (2006), in many states such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas, ELLs are falling behind in reading and language arts assessments in comparison with their majority peers. In Arizona, 35% of ELLs at the fourth-grade level and 69% of ELLs at the eighth-grade level fall far below standards in reading and language arts; in Florida, 92% of ELLs at the fourth-grade level and 95% at the eighth-grade level are considered partially proficient. In Texas, only 13% of ELLs at the fourth-grade level and 2% at the eighth-grade level reach advanced proficiency in reading and language arts. Many other states also reported a similar trend in ELLs achievements (Kindler, 2002). These disappointing results suggest that we need to explore factors that might influence ELLs’ literacy and academic learning. In addition to the programmatic factors mentioned above, various other factors account for the quality and speed of ELLs’ learning, including elements related to the language, the learner, and the context.

The Language Factor

Both the native languages and English play a role in the ELLs’ academic development in the United States. The influence of their native languages in their English learning or vice versa can be vital. This cross-language influence is often referred to as transfer, which can be either positive or negative transfer. When a first/native language (LI) structure or rule is used in a second language (L2) utterance and that use is appropriate or “correct,” it is considered positive transfer or known as facilitation. On the other hand, when an LI structure or rule is used in an L2 utterance and that use is inappropriate and considered an “error,” it is taken as negative transfer, or known as interference (Gass & Selinker, 2001).

Cross-language transfer is found to occur also at the metalinguistic level. Several underlying cognitive abilities such as a learner’s working memory, phonological short-term memory, and phonological awareness, and phonological recoding are also transferable (Genesee et al., 2006). That is, once a learner possesses/acquires these abilities in one language, s/he is likely to apply them in learning other languages.

Learner perception and knowledge of the two languages are also significant factors that shape positive or negative transfers. Gass and Selinker (2001) argue that based on the learner’s perception of the distance between LI and L2 and his/her actual knowledge of L2, s/he makes decisions about which forms and functions of the LI are appropriate candidates for use in L2 or vice versa. When a leaner believes that the linguistic information is common or neutral to both the LI and L2, s/he is very likely to transfer it between LI and L2. On the contrary, if a learner perceives the linguistic information is specific to either LI or L2, it is very likely that s/he will decide it is not transferable. These factors in cross-language transfer suggest that ELLs’ second-language learning is a highly complex process that involves both the linguistic factor and learner individual differences.

The Learner Factor

Although all learners are different in terms of motivation, identity, aptitude, learning strategies, and personality, there are some individual differences that are specific to ELLs. For example, ELLs may differ in their prior schooling experiences and/or literacy skills in their first language. Many ELLs come to the school with a literate background in their first language and/or prior schooling experiences in their home country. Others, such as children who grow up in refugee camps or war-torn countries, may not be proficient or literate in their first language or may not have any schooling experiences. For example, some ELLs may come to school without knowing how to hold a book or a pencil, while others at the same age may have already learned how to read and write. These differences can significantly influence ELLs’ acquisition of English and their adaptation to U.S. schools.

The Context Factor

The context factor includes both sociocultural and socioeconomic factors in the society, the community, the school, and the home. In recent years, researchers have concluded that minority students’ school failure may be the results of mismatches between learners’ home and school cultural practices including differences in language, literacy beliefs, and interactional patterns (Heath, 1983; Li, 2003; McCarthey, 1999). As familiarity with school literacy practices is the mark of school success, students from nonmainstream cultural backgrounds have to learn a different set of conventions, literacy practices, and often experience difficulties with schooling (Li, 2006).

There is also consensus that unfavorable social contexts (such as social isolation, detachment from an ethnic community, and low SES of their schools) and negative societal reception (such as experiencing racism) will result in negative educational attainment in their children (Li, 2003; Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). Other negative factors include the location of the minority settlement (e.g., whether immigrants are in close contact with native-born minorities) and the absence of a mobility ladder where immigrants are confined to low-paying, labor-intensive occupations that offer few channels for upward mobility (Portes & Zhou, 1994).

The location of the minority settlement, for example, has a significant impact on what kinds of schools ELLs attend and what kind of education they receive (Li, 2005). The school resources, the social organization of the student population, the teaching force, and the nature of curriculum and instruction often differ in terms of the SES of the community context of schools (Knapp & Woolverton, 2004; Li, 2005; Li, 2007). Schools in higher SES communities attract better-qualified teachers, receive more resources and funding, are better equipped with technology; they are in safer and more orderly environments. In contrast, schools serving students from low-income families have fewer resources, experience greater difficulties attracting qualified teachers, and face many more challenges in addressing students’ needs. Researchers such as Suârez-Orozco and Suârez-Orozco (2001) discovered that schools serving immigrant children range from high-functioning ones with high expectations with an emphasis on achievement to catastrophic ones characterized by ever-present fear of violence, distrust, low expectations, and institutional anomie. The latter kinds of schools, what they call “fields of endanger-ment,” are usually located in neighborhoods troubled by drugs, prostitution, and gangs; where students and faculty are often focused on survival, not learning.

Effective Instructional Practices

Many instructional factors can contribute to students’ difficulties with English language learning including the quality of instruction, materials and methods, classroom management and teachers’ interaction with students, their views on the role of the home language, and assessment strategies (Li, 2004). According to many researchers, quality instruction entails not only engaging students in purposeful, authentic, and high-quality literature, but also providing them with explicit and implicit literacy instruction on word study, reading comprehension, and writing (Block & Pressley, 2002; Gambrell & Mazzoni, 1999; Ivey, 2002). In addition, as mentioned earlier, quality instruction for ELLs is culturally responsive to students’ language and cultural backgrounds.

Many instructional practices that work with native-English speaker populations (e.g., explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and reading comprehension) generally work with ELLs (Shanahan & Beck, 2006). Effective (LI and L2) literacy instruction is an “infusion” of different approaches characterized by an integrated and comprehensive teaching of skills, literature, and writing; scaffolding and matching of task demands to student competence; encouragement of student self-regulation; and strong cross-curricular connections (Jimenez & Gersten, 1999; Li, 2006; Pressley et al., 2001). Often, it depends on teachers’ ability to be conceptually selective in combining practices that work well in order to address the needs of diverse student populations (Gersten & Jimenez, 1994; Gersten & Woodward, 1992; Li, 2006; Pressley et al., 2001).

There is a repertoire of effective instructional strategies teachers can use in teaching ELLs including visualizing, use of authentic materials, collaborative learning, modeled talk, shared reading, writing workshops, and word walls, to name a few. The visualizing strategy is a language teaching approach in which instruction and thinking are made more understandable to ELLs by making use of pictures, drawings, photos images, videos, and manipulatives. This strategy can have two aspects: making instruction visible and making thinking visible. To make instruction visible, for example, teachers can show students a picture (or a series of pictures) to practice certain vocabulary related to the picture and encourage students to tell a story or to draw. Manipulatives can be wooden cubes used for counting and math calculations or models of the human body for biological ideas and concepts so that students can practice oral language and develop academic language simultaneously (Herrell & Jordon, 2004). To make thinking visible, students are encouraged and guided to draw or create an image to support their understanding and thinking about some ideas and concepts or help them solve problems (Chamot & O’Malley, 1994). This also gives teachers opportunities to find out whether and how students understand something, and give assistance in time if necessary.

The use of authentic materials or realia is also important in teaching ELLs. Authentic materials refer to real things or concrete objects “that are used in the classroom to build background knowledge and vocabulary” (Herrell & Jordan, 2004, p. 23). These materials are from students’ real lives, so they are more familiar with the objects and more motivated to learn how to describe them or their functions, making the learning of that vocabulary much easier for them.

ELLs can be paired or grouped together in discussions or projects so that they can interact with and provide support to each other. The strategy can be traced back to Vygotsky’s (1978) notion of zone of proximal development which is defined as “the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (p. 86). When the students are working with their peers, they are less anxious. However, in this strategy teachers need to make sure that groups are heterogeneous with one or more capable students being able to provide the necessary scaffolding to others in the group.

Modeled talk is a strategy that demonstrates sample verbal interactions or situational dialogues to prepare ELLs for some daily and specific events. As one of the most popular strategies for ELLs, it has two approaches: function-based and situation-based approaches. ELLs can be scaffolded to interact and use language for some specific purposes, for example, to apologize, to greet each other, to call somebody. In this way, the interaction and communication is function based. Situation-based approach often gives students some simulated situation and teaches students the possible talk in such a situation. For both of the approaches, teachers can assign students to do role-play. This strategy not only decreases the ELLs’ affective filter in the classroom, but it also provides them with language they may need to use in various situations and for different purposes (Herrell & Jordon, 2004).

Shared reading means that the teacher and ELLs read books, charts, and other texts together when the text is too difficult for the students to read independently (Holdaway, 1979). Shared reading can also be used when the teacher would like to show pronunciations and intonations to the students. In fact, shared reading can be used across grade levels for many purposes. For learners in the lower grades, besides pronunciation and intonation purposes mentioned in the above, this strategy can be used to develop their habits of reading and help them read according to punctuation marks. For the students in the higher grades, this strategy can help them develop their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (Herrell & Jordon, 2004).

Writing workshop is a strategy to teach writing in which the students choose their own writing topics and move through prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing their work as though they were professional authors (Tompkins, 1994). Writing workshop is even more effective when the students work together to discuss their ideas and work together to support each other in revising and editing their writing. At the same time, the teacher can give them encouragement and help if necessary. This strategy has tremendous advantages in several aspects such as promoting students’ motivation to write and providing them with opportunities to interact with each other and share immediate response and feedback.

For the purpose of word study and vocabulary development, a word wall with an alphabetical list of words can be created in the classroom (Tompkins, 1997). These words can be high-frequency words, or the words used in some curriculum unit, including math, science, and history target vocabulary. Some teachers may work with students to put the words on colorful paper and decorate a bulletin board within the classroom. The word wall serves as a reference and makes it easy for ELLs to access and revisit the vocabulary in their communication and writing.

Assessments of ELLs’ Learning Outcomes

Effective literacy instruction must be accompanied by appropriate assessment of students’ learning outcomes. According to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, all states must develop a set of high-quality, yearly student academic assessments at least in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science, and 95% participation rate of all the elementary and secondary school students including the ELL population is required. Each year, the states must report student progress in terms of the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level or higher, which is called “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) and the ELL population is one of the subgroup categories that the states must report at the same time (Abedi, 2004; NCLB, 2002). Furthermore, under the NCLB Act, each state is required to develop measurable achievement objectives to ensure that ELLs make AYP in their development of English proficiency. During their first year in the United States, the ELLs do not have to take a state’s regular reading test, although they must take math and an English language proficiency test. Therefore, there are two types of assessments for the ELLs: academic assessment in the content areas and an English language proficiency assessment (Menken, 2006).

Take the State of Michigan for example. Each spring, the annual English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA) is administrated to ELLs to measure their yearly progress (AYP). Both oral and written language skills (i.e., listening, reading, writing, and speaking) for academic and social settings are assessed. In addition to this assessment, ELLs, like the other students, are required to participate in annual academic content assessment, Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), in which math, science, social studies, and English language arts are tested. The ELLs who have entered the United States for the first time and have been enrolled in a public school for less than 10 months at the time of the MEAP assessment can take ELPA in place of MEAP English language arts assessment, but the other ELLs cannot. Therefore, the ELLs in the state of Michigan are required to take both ELPA as the English language proficiency test and MEAP as the academic content test each year.

The English language proficiency tests the states adopt and develop for the ELLs vary greatly from state to state. Up to spring 2006, 44 states and the District of Columbia have implemented new, comprehensive English proficiency tests for their ELLs. More than 20 out of these 44 states are using tests developed by a consortia financed by the U.S. Department of Education, while others have created their own assessments. For some states, creating or selecting a suitable English proficiency test has been challenging because the U.S. Department of Education does not allocate funding to the states for test development, but funds several consortia to set English language proficiency standards and devise tests aligned with them. In all the language proficiency tests for the ELLs developed by a consortium rather than a state, Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State to State for English-Language Learners (ACCESS) developed by World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) consortium is the most popular one, with 14 states and the District of Columbia currently using it. Table 61.1 lists the English language proficiency tests for the ELLs in California, Michigan, New York, and Texas. The annual English language proficiency tests for ELLs in the states take from 2–6 hours and usually measure reading, writing, speaking, and listening in English. For example, ACCESS for ELLs takes about 2.5 hours, while the ELPA in Michigan is untimed and student paced, but it takes more than 2 hours in general (Michigan Department of Education, 2007).

Because many ELLs may not be sufficiently proficient to take these tests, which may seriously compromise the validity and reliability of the tests, many states have to make a variety of test accommodations for students who have been in the U.S. schools for less than 3 years. Accommodations can be made either through modification of the test itself or through modification of the testing procedure to help students better demonstrate what they know (Butler & Stevens, 1997). The two most commonly used accommodations are translation (to translate the test items into ELLs’ native languages and/or use an assessment that is in the students’ native language) and give ELLs additional time to take the tests. Other accommodations include providing ELLs with bilingual or glossary dictionaries, administering the test directions and/or the test items orally, testing the students in small groups, and adding additional breaks during the test period.

Table 61.1 English Language Proficiency Assessment in Selected States
State First Implemented Name of the Test Test Developer
California Fall 2001 California English Language Development Test CTB/McGraw Hill, under contract with the California Department of Education
Michigan Spring 2006 English Language Proficiency Assessment Mountain West Assessment Consortium and Harcourt Assessment Inc.
New York May 2003 New York State ESL Achievement Test Harcourt Assessment Inc. and New York State Education Department
Texas 2004–05 school year Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System Pearson Educational Measurement
SOURCE: Adapted from “New era for testing English-Learners begins” by M. A. Zehr, July 12, 2006, Education Week, p. 29.

Teachers and researchers have different views on the effects of these test accommodations. Some think that the test accommodations, if properly used, may help the ELLs demonstrate their content knowledge more effectively (Abedi, Hofstetter, & Lord, 2004; Rivera & Collum, 2006), while others do not think the accommodations are successful because they are not based on empirically sound methodology (Crawford, 2004).

Mixed views are also expressed on the effects of the NCLB assessments on curriculum, instruction, and the ELLs. On the one hand, the educators and teachers welcome the unprecedented attention brought to ELLs by the NCLB’s requirement to isolate test-score data for ELLs. NCLB has spurred an increase in English instruction for ELLs and in teacher professional development, particularly for teachers of regular classes (Evans & Hornberger, 2005; Menken, 2006). Some believe that the tests will help improve instruction and they generally support the NCLB requirement that states use more comprehensive assessments for English language proficiency (Zehr, 2006). On the other hand, some educators and teachers argue that these changes are troubling because they are driven by the tests, and the curriculum and instruction for ELLs tend to focus on test-taking strategies, and thus valuable content instruction time is lost and the quality of English instruction is decreased (Crawford, 2004; Menken, 2006; Zehr, 2006). Further, many argue that performance on the academic content tests might not represent students’ actual academic ability or reflect the many characteristics and factors that influence their learning because of their limited English language proficiency (Mahon, 2006; Mckay, 2006; Zehr, 2004).


In this chapter, we have reviewed issues concerning the identification and placement of ELLs, the types of instructional programs available to them, factors that affect ELLs’ academic success, effective instructional strategies, and the assessment of their learning outcomes. The overview suggests that multifaceted influences at different levels, including the individual, social, programmatic, pedagogical, and policy level, interact to impact ELLs’ academic success.

To ensure ELLs’ success in the U.S. schools, teachers need to treat ELLs’ first languages and cultures as resources instead of barriers to overcome in ELLs’ learning. They must also collect student information from a variety of sources in order to be better informed about students’ language proficiency, learner characteristics, and factors that might affect students’ learning in school and home. This information will help teachers better plan their lessons to be culturally responsive in their instruction. In order to help ELLs improve their English skills, they also need to use a variety of instructional strategies and approaches to accommodate different learner needs and backgrounds. They must also use both formal and informal classroom-based assessment measures to evaluate learners’ outcomes. At the program level, administrators and policy makers should make concerted efforts to develop effective programs and services that are in the best interest of ELLs.