When you enroll your child in a public or charter school, you will be given a “home language survey” that asks what language or languages are spoken in your home and what language your child speaks most often. If English is not your primary language, the school must communicate with you in your preferred language.
After you return the language survey, the school will test your child’s ability to understand, speak, read, and write in his or her primary language and in English. If your child has limited ability to understand, speak, read, or write in English, the school will let you know that he or she qualifies for the EL program. The school will also explain the methods it will use to teach English to your child.
Please note that the residency requirement for ELs is the same as for any other enrolling student, and schools may not ask about immigration status as part of the enrollment process.
Teachers and administrators are required to accomodate the needs of families from all backgrounds and cultures. The school must make sure that students and families are not mistreated, either by school staff or other students, because of their language, culture, or customs. If your student is not receiving adequate services, you can reach out to the Education Law Center. Learn more here or call them at 215-238-6970.
The amount of direct instruction — called English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or English as a Second Language (ESL) — depends on your child’s current ability to understand, speak, read, and write in English. There are five levels of English proficiency:
Your child’s English proficiency will be evaluated periodically to make adjustments to his or her specific program.
Probably not. ESOL teachers have special training and must be certified to teach ELs, but they are not required to be bilingual.
However, when the school communicates with you about your child, it must provide documents written in your primary language and must provide an interpreter for any face-to-face meetings.
The teachers in your child’s academic classes must make sure that he or she is able to understand the subject material being taught (such as math, science, or social studies). When needed in a particular subject, the school may offer bilingual instruction, modified instruction in English, or other extra help. Academic tests must also be adapted to your child’s needs when necessary.
Although standardized tests such as the PSSA are given in English, the school must make “accommodations” if necessary to help your child succeed. Accommodations may include giving instructions for the test in your child’s primary language.
The district offers the Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) program, for elementary-school students whose first language is Spanish, gradually shifts the primary language of instruction from Spanish to English between kindergarten and Grade 5.
The Newcomers Learning Academy (NLA), located within Franlklin Learning Center, is a four-year program for students aged 14-20 who have arrived in the United States within the past year. At its core, it is an accelerated and intensive course of English language study. NLA provides extra support for students who have gaps in their formal education.
To encourage an appreciation of multiculturalism, the district also offers a Dual Language (DL) program that joins ELs with English-speaking students. In the program, half of the subjects are taught in Spanish and half in English.
Probably not. ELL status is not considered a learning disability. ELs who are found to have learning disabilities are entitled to full special education services in addition to ESOL classes. See “Understanding Special Education” for more information.
“Rights of English Language Learners (ELL) and Families with Limited English Proficiency” from the Education Law Center
The School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs
Pennsylvania ELL Law from the Pennsylvania Department of Education
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