Fact Sheet on Assessment of English Language Learners

No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) addresses academic accountability by requiring states to implement statewide accountability systems covering all public schools and students. Each state must have a single statewide accountability system that ensures that all districts and schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP).

Each state establishes a definition of AYP to use each year to determine the achievement of each school district and school. Assessment results and state progress objectives must be broken out by poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and limited English proficiency to ensure that no group is left behind. The new definition of AYP is diagnostic in nature and intended to highlight where schools need improvement and where they should focus their resources.

The NCLB subgroup definition of a limited English proficient (LEP) student, also known as an English Language Learner (ELL), gives states flexibility in defining the students who constitute the LEP subgroup. For example, a state may narrowly define the LEP subgroup as only those students receiving direct, daily LEP services. Alternatively, a state may define the group more broadly to include both students receiving direct services and students being monitored based on their achievement on academic assessments.

Under NCLB, schools must show AYP in closing the gap for students who have not achieved academic proficiency. So that every child counts, NCLB requires states to include in AYP calculations the academic achievement results of all students, including LEP students. The Department of Education (ED) recently issued two new policies designed to help students who are new to the United States and the English language and to give states and local school districts greater flexibility to help these students and still meet NCLB requirements. It is important to note that all of the options are voluntary.

NCLB ELL policies include:

  1. States may allow LEP students, during their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools, to take the reading/language arts content assessment in addition to the English language proficiency assessment. They would take the mathematics assessment, with accommodations as appropriate. States may, but are not be required to, include in AYP calculations results from the mathematics assessment and, if given, the reading/language arts assessment. States must annually assess LEP students for English language proficiency in Grades K-12. The language assessment scores are not included in the state accountability system for AYP purposes. The English language proficiency assessment must be aligned to the newly developed state English language proficiency standards that are linked to the approved state academic content standards.
  2. For AYP calculations, states are allowed up to 2 years to include in the LEP subgroup former LEP students who have attained English proficiency. Because LEP students exit the LEP subgroup once they attain English language proficiency, demonstrating improvements on state assessments for these students was challenging. This option enables schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) to get credit for improving English language proficiency from year to year.

States must include all ELL students in their state assessment system. No exemptions are allowed based on level of English proficiency. ELL students are assessed annually for progress in language acquisition in Grades K-12; for content knowledge in reading/language arts and math, they are assessed annually in Grades 3-8 and one time in high school.

If a determination is made, based on a district's evaluation of ELL students, that native language assessment would produce the most reliable and accurate information, the state should make every effort to develop and administer such assessments to the extent practical. If a state decides not to use native language assessment for content knowledge, it must offer ELL students content tests in English using appropriate accommodations.

  • Regardless of the method of content assessment for the first 3 years, ELL students must be assessed in English for reading/language arts and math after 3 consecutive years of attending school in the United States.
  • If an LEA determines, on a case-by-case basis, that native language versions of academic assessments will yield more accurate information, then students may be assessed in reading/language arts and math in the appropriate language for a period that does not exceed 2 additional years.

Each state may determine the accommodations appropriate for their ELL students. ED encourages states to consider accommodations that have been scientifically researched and do not change the validity of the assessment. States may choose from a variety of accommodations, including

  • using an assessment in the student's native language that is aligned with the state content and achievement standards,
  • providing audio-taped instructions in the native language,
  • allowing students to respond in either the native language or English using audiotape,
  • providing additional clarifying information at the end of the test booklet or throughout the test,
  • allowing students to use a bilingual dictionary.

General ELL/LEP Facts

  • Limited English proficient (LEP) students are also known as English Language Learners (ELL).
  • There are 5.5 million ELL students in U.S. public schools who speak more than 400 different languages. Eighty percent of ELL students speak Spanish as their first language.


U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition

National Association of Bilingual Education

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Educational Programs

Declaration of Rights for Parents of English Language Learners Under NCLB

ASHA Corporate Partners