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Understanding English Learner (EL) Education: The Basics

Understanding English Learner (EL) Education: The Basics

Public schools (including charter schools) offer special classes and support to students who do not speak English as a primary or native language, as required by federal and state laws. Students with a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) are known as English Learners (ELs).

EL students have the added challenge to stay on track with their education while still learning the English language in which they are being taught. EL education provides students with the academic, social, and cultural skills needed to succeed in school. Programs focus on improving a student's listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities in English. Currently, there are approximately 15,600 ELs in pre-K through 12th grade in the Philadelphia school system.

The amount and types of instruction and support that schools must provide to ELs depends on their English proficiency level. Students who speak no English may receive up to three hours a day of direct language instruction, while students who are nearly proficient may receive an hour or less per day. In Philadelphia, the most common program offered is English as a Second Language (ESL).

When ELs are in regular classes with other native English speakers, the ESL teachers work with the grade/content teachers to ensure EL students are understanding learning material. At times, they may even directly help EL students during regular class time by providing in-classroom support. The content and teaching methods also may be modified based on a student's proficiency level. ELs may also receive special help during standardized tests, such as having directions given to them in their primary language. Schools may not exclude ELs from special academic programs (such as gifted or technical education), school counseling, or extracurricular activities.

ELs are evaluated regularly to ensure that they are getting the proper level of instruction and making progress. Students are enrolled in EL education until they achieve a high proficiency level, as defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. EL students are likely receive this support for 6 years, though it depends on their ability and development in the English language.

Finding an EL program

The School District of Philadelphia's Multilingual Assessment Center provides assistance to students and families who speak a primary language other than English. New students are evaluated based on their English proficiency and recommended for an appropriate EL education program with school enrollment support. Visit the MAC website for more information or contact 215-400-4240. Multilingual speakers and translators are available.

To find learn about charter schools with EL programs, visit the Charter Schools Office or call 215-400-4090. Alternatively, contact the individual charter school directly.

Families should contact independent and private schools directly to learn about EL support and programs offered.

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