School Administrators Serving English Learners and Linguistically Diverse Families

School Administrators Serving English Learners and Linguistically Diverse Families

A Restart Guide ​

Delivering effective instruction that meets English learners’ linguistic and cultural needs requires planning and innovation on the part of educators and school administrators. Schools need to accommodate learning through online, face-to-face and hybrid formats while observing current health guidelines.

The purpose of this webpage is to provide guidance and resources for administrative decisions related to the needs of English learners and their families as schools prepare for the 2020-21 restart of education programs. This webpage addresses the areas below:

Communication with families

Enrolling and registering English learners

Identification and placement of English learners

Providing instruction to English learners

Exiting English learner status


Frequently Asked Questions

This guidance should be used in conjunction with Reset and Restart: Education Planning for Ohio Schools and Districts, and the United States Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education Fact Sheet: Providing Services to English Learners during the Covid-19 Outbreak (May 2020).


Communication with Families

Communication is the first, and one of the most critical steps to engaging families and creating strong relationships. Schools and districts should explore and connect with community partners to use multiple methods of communication, including in-person, electronic (email, app, social media), and traditional resources, like newsletters and flyers. This section provides suggestions and resources for schools and districts to create inclusive, two-way communication practices to engage families of English learners in supporting their child’s learning at home and in school.
  • Support plans: Language support plans, or Lau plans, are meant to describe what districts will do to align instruction of English learners to Ohio’s learning standards and local content standards, identify English learners, employ English as a second language (ESL) teachers and design a language program. In addition, the plans outline translation and interpretation services to communicate with families in a timely manner. Districts should assess and revise current language support plans, engaging culturally and linguistically diverse members of the school community to review and provide input.
  • Translation services: It is likely that families will require oral and written translation support as schools and districts communicate information about their restart plans. Schools and districts should determine how oral interpretation and written translation will be provided in a timely manner. The Ohio Support Guide for Teachers of English Learners provides resources related to translation and interpretation services.
  • Diverse stakeholder team: School administrators are encouraged to assemble a team of stakeholders including parents who represent the district’s diverse families to assess the accessibility of information for people with limited English proficiency. The team should review websites for accessibility, translation technologies, provide feedback on support plans and processes for families and staff to follow.
  • Utilize community partners: It is important to partner with community organizations to reach culturally and linguistically diverse families. For example, the Ohio Habla podcast informs the Latino community in Spanish and English with stories about topics related to education, quarantine and immigration experiences.
  • Recorded information: Some schools use recorded telephone calls to share information. Recorded telephone calls and videos should be developed carefully to ensure that they are understandable to families. Schools should avoid sending recorded messages that are not understandable to parents and guardians without an option to request help in receiving the information that is being disseminated in their home language.
  • Translation tools for websites: School and district websites should have a webpage translation tool that is easily seen and simple to use. Google provides a free machine translation tool. Although such tools have limitations, and often cannot account for cultural context and colloquialisms, they are a quick first step to increase equitable access to published school information for parents with limited English proficiency. Districts are encouraged to have native or fluent speakers review documents and other communications whenever possible.
  • English learner information section: Schools and districts should make information related to English learners clearly available and accessible. A section for English learners could include, in English and other languages, an explanation of the school’s registration procedures, the language usage survey, a description of the English learner program, a list of other school services and a list of school contacts.
  • Apps for smartphones: There are several common apps schools use to communicate with parents in other languages include Talking Points, Class Dojo  and Say Hi! Teachers can use these apps to increase communication with families. Schools and districts should set rules that all teachers in a building use the same app to communicate with parents, so that they do not have to learn different apps in cases where they have children across different schools, teachers and grade levels.
  • Establish regular times for sending messages. Parents are more likely to receive and respond to messages that are sent according to regular schedules. Setting a pattern or cadence of school communications supports all students and families, including those who are culturally and linguistically diverse.


Enrolling and registering English learners

Parents have the obligation to enroll their children in school. Districts can take proactive steps to minimize cultural and linguistic barriers faced by English learners during the enrollment process. The following information emphasizes the importance of engaging families by providing access to enrollment and clarity regarding proof of residency.

Accessibility. Schools and districts should make enrollment accessible to non-English speaking families and take proactive steps to ensure meaningful communication during the registration process. Schools should ensure that written registration procedures are available in multiple languages and with oral interpretation supports for parents with limited English proficiency. For example, Mason City Schools provide a dedicated webpage that includes a translation app to explain the current mail-in registration processes. The Akron Public Schools maintain a page of registration instructions translated in languages commonly spoken by families.

All schools should maintain a list of interpreters who are able to provide spoken language supports in languages of families with limited English proficiency. Schools, such as the Academy of World Languages, publish an online form where families can request interpreters to communicate with educators. Parents’ communication preferences and students’ experiences in different linguistic and cultural environments are documented for instructional and program administration uses on Ohio’s language usage survey.

Evidence of residency. In providing proof of residency, federal law1 (McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 11301 et seq.) affirms that homeless and national origin minority students, including those with limited English proficiency, may not be delayed or prevented from accessing education due to difficulties in providing proof of residency. Schools should provide families with options to show evidence of residency in the school district. The following documents may be accepted for online or face-to-face school registration as proof of residence:2
  • Telephone or utility bill
  • Mortgage or lease document
  • Parent affidavit
  • Rent payment receipts
  • Copy of a money order made for payment of rent
  • Letter from a parent’s employer written on company letterhead
Empower parents with information: School districts with effective family engagement practices take proactive steps to inform parents of their educational rights and responsibilities. For example, to orient newcomer parents to the local education system and its processes, districts such as North Olmsted City connect parents with community members who speak the same language and offer multilingual orientations. Resources are published by organizations such as Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), which has published useful materials for parents including, Know Your Rights about Education during the Pandemic videos spoken in Spanish and Arabic. Planned supports, offered at the point of enrollment, pave the way for parent engagement and collaboration.

For additional resources related to reaching diverse families, see the Ohio Department of Education’s Support Guide for Teachers of English Learners.

Identification and placement of English learners

Schools are required to screen newly enrolled students to determine English learner status (Section 1112(e)(3) of Elementary and Secondary Education Act). If districts and schools are unable to use in-person screeners due to COVID-19 related restrictions, they may adjust3 the identification procedure temporarily to allow for the use of online resources and other options to identify students, as specified in the U.S Department of Education Factsheet: Providing Services to English Learners During the Covid-19 Outbreak. This section provides information and resources related to follow the two-step process to identify English language learners.
Step 1: Language Usage Survey. Schools should administer the Language Usage Survey (LUS) to all families and students enrolling for the first time in Ohio schools. To the extent possible, the survey should follow its usual procedures. When necessary, parents may complete the survey by telephone or other means. Parents with limited English proficiency should be provided with interpreters to be able to fully communicate questions and responses to the language usage survey. To support schools, the Ohio Department of Education website maintains translations of the language usage survey in multiple languages.

Step 2: English language proficiency screening. Schools should administer the Ohio English Language Proficiency Screener (OELPS) to potential English learners identified by the Language Usage Survey. If a student earns an overall proficiency determination of Emerging or Progressing, the student is identified as an English learner. The school reports the student as an English learner using the applicable English learner status codes (FD170) in Ohio’s Education Management Information System (EMIS), notifies parents of the student’s identification as an English learner and places the student in the school’s language instructional education program.

If a school or district cannot administer the Ohio English Language Proficiency Screener to potential English learners identified by the Language Usage Survey, the school may use other resources to presumptively identify and make placement and instructional decisions for its English learners. Some schools may use a combination of record review, student and family interviews, student observations and language proficiency tests to identify, inform instruction and place provisionally identified English learners. The Council of the Great City Schools offers tools for assessing English language proficiency during extended school closures: Assessing Language Proficiency during Extended School Closures.

Any students identified for English learner services without the OELPS will be identified as presumptive English learners. Presumptive English learners have been identified with a provisional procedure due to the school or district’s inability to administer the OELPS. Districts and schools must maintain a list of students who are screened with the presumptive identification procedure4 so that these students may take the OELPS when it is possible to do so. Presumptive English learners are eligible for the same services and accommodations as formally identified English learners, and districts should report presumptive English learners in EMIS (FD170) as English learners.

Identifying English learners transferring from other schools. In cases of students who are transferring from other schools, the student’s English learner classification status should transfer with the student. This includes students who are transferring from schools in other states and U.S. territories and Department of Defense Education Activity schools. When a student’s English learner identification cannot be determined from transferred records, the school should follow its standard English learner identification process. In addition, in cases where the information is not provided, the student’s previous school should be contacted to request the language usage survey and English language proficiency assessment results. The records of students previously enrolled in Ohio schools, may be validated in the student state identification (SSID) located on the Ohio District Data Exchange (ODDEX).

English learner identification considerations. School administrators should provide training and reminders to school staff who administer the language usage survey, keeping the following points in mind:
  • Complete the two-part identification of English learners within 30 days for students enrolled on the first day of school, or within 15 days when students enroll during the school year.
  • Orient parents to the intent and purpose of the Language Usage Survey using the preferred language and communication mode of parents.
  • Identify multilingual staff and ensure that interpreters are available, either in person or telephonically.
  • Whether or not the screener is available, use information from the Language Usage Survey and other sources to plan language instruction and access to the curriculum.
  • Review student records to determine the type and frequency of English learner services.
  • Share and review English learner assessment data with students’ teachers.
  • Assure parents that acceptance of the school’s English language educational program for their child may be revisited or revoked at any time by communicating with the English learner program coordinator.
For additional assistance with the language usage survey and identification of English learners,
please contact the Lau Resource Center at 614-466-4109.

Providing instruction to English learners

School administrators are responsible5 (20 U.S.C. §1701-1720) for ensuring that English learner programs adopt an evidence-based language and literacy curriculum and provide comprehensible instruction. This section provides strategies and resources for administrators to help ensure English learners can participate meaningfully in school and during remote learning.
  • Support for teachers:  General education teachers should be provided with professional learning support and time to collaborate and plan lessons with English learner specialists.
  • Guidance for teachers: General education teachers should be provided guidance on how to deliver lessons that consider English learners’ language instructional levels. This includes the selection of materials and implementation of instructional strategies that address student’s background knowledge and experiences. When possible, select whole class resources that include multilingual materials. For example, teachers can use online math modules for the whole class available at no cost by Engage New York and the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project, accessible in more than 15 languages.
  • Language objectives: Have explicit language objectives in lessons that include English learners with and without disabilities. Consult with the individualized education program (IEP) team to determine domain exemptions or test accommodations that may be needed for English learners with disabilities when they take the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment. Share resources such as this infographic from the Regional Education Laboratory Northeast and Islands.
  • Bilingual instructional resources: Provide teachers and parents with a place to share bilingual instructional resources and materials that support social emotional learning and literacy. The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA) offers thousands of online resources related to the instruction of English learners and special publications to assist during the period of school closures and 2020 restart.
  • Remote learning: During remote learning, administrators and teachers can use the Ohio Support Guide for Teachers of English Learners to support them in delivering high quality instruction.

Exiting English learners

The process of exiting and/or reclassifying English learners was disrupted in the spring of 2020 due to the ordered school-building closure. As schools move towards reopening, districts and administrators continue to have the obligation to reclassify, properly exit and monitor, English learners. This section covers information and resources related to exiting or reclassifying English learners who have achieved proficiency in English, as well as information related to monitoring English learners upon exiting.

Reclassifying: An English learner student in grades K-12 is reclassified as a former English learner (FEL) when the student attains a performance level of “Proficient” on the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment administered during the spring of each school year. The Proficient performance level is defined as domain/test level scores of 4s and 5s in any combination across all four domains (listening, reading, writing and speaking).

Because of the ordered school-building closure, approximately 5% of the English learners were unable to complete all four domains of the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment. Those students with incomplete Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment scores should not be reclassified on EMIS, even if they received scores of 4 or 5 on the domains that were completed. Federal guidance supports that only those students who have achieved a score of “proficient” on all four domains of the 2020 Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment may be reclassified from English learner status. An exception to this is those students with documented domain exemptions who completed and received a score of proficient on their required domains.

Monitoring and supports during transition. To assure that former English learners are successful in academics through effective instruction and accessible programs, Ohio schools and districts are required to monitor former English learners[6] for at least two years after students exit from the English learner program.

During the monitoring process, schools and districts develop procedures based upon best practice to support Former English Learners (FEL). That is, schools and districts make certain that former English learners have not been prematurely exited from the English language program and are able to access the general education curriculum without supplementary linguistic supports.

Additional information regarding exiting or reclassifying English learners is available from the United States Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education Fact Sheet: Providing Services to English Learners during the Covid-19 Outbreak (May 18, 2020).

Questions about the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment may be directed to
Paula Mahaley at (614) 466-0217, email or
David Brauer, (614) 387-7586, email


The following section provides information about funding and resources that are available to schools and districts to meet the needs of English learners.
  • Federal Title III and state funding (ORC 3317.016) may be used to support effective communication with families of English learners, acquire online assessments that are appropriate for English learners’ proficiency levels and enable assessment of knowledge in the home languages of newcomer students. In addition, funds can be used for the purposes of providing assessments to determine English learners’ language proficiency, supporting the acquisition of content knowledge and skills in English and other languages and professional learning for general education teachers to support English learners in their schools.
  • Emergency relief funds may[7] be leveraged to decrease equity gaps that may have been exacerbated due to the ordered school-building closure. Schools and districts may use Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF) to plan and provide the continuum of remote and face-to-face language services for parents with language barriers. In addition, Title III funds may[8] be used to provide professional learning related to technology for remote or hybrid learning plans.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the enrollment and instructional obligations to serve English learners who enroll in Career Technical Education (CTE) programs including Joint Vocational Schools? Do they follow the same obligations as other schools?
Yes, the enrollment, cultural and language instructional needs of English learners should be addressed by career technical education programs as described in the U.S. Department of Education Dear Colleague Letter (2015). Career Technical Education programs should implement a collaborative and data-based approach when planning, implementing and reporting in grant applications such as the Carl D. Perkins V State Plan Grant for Advanced Approaches.

2. Will schools and districts code English learners who have only completed a portion of their year one or year two status according to days or school years in the EMIS codes?
English learners who enrolled at the end of the school year and did not receive English language and content instruction due to the spring 2020 ordered school-building closures have effectively completed only a fraction of the school year. The Department recommends that such students remain coded as English learners and be hand-coded to second year English learners when they have received the equivalent of one year (180 days) of instruction. Newcomer students do not forfeit needed instruction. (See 20-110 of the EMIS manual for more information.)

3. In cases where newly arrived students are English learners with disabilities, what are the guidelines for screening? For example, if a student has been identified as a potential English learner through the language usage survey, but is non-verbal or otherwise unable to complete all four domains of the English language proficiency screener, should the student be identified as an English learner?
Students with disabilities who are identified as potential English learners during the screening process and who cannot complete all four parts of the English Language Proficiency Assessment may be considered English learners in all applicable aspects in the development of the Individualized Education Program. The student may then be administered the screener with domains exemptions indicated on the individualized education plan to receive the formal identification as an English Learner.

4. Have there been any changes in the guidance around the retention of Third Grade English learners who have not yet shown evidence of meeting the English language arts standards?
Under newly enacted legislation for the 2020-2021 school year (Section 18 of H.B. 164 of the 133rd General Assembly), no district, community school, STEM school or chartered non-public school shall retain a student in the third grade who does not meet the promotion score of 683 on the Ohio’s State Test for Grade 3 English language arts if the student's principal and reading teacher agree that other evaluations of the student's skills in reading demonstrate that the student is academically prepared to be promoted to the fourth grade. The Third Grade Reading Guarantee English Learners retention exemption for English learners will be applied in the 2020-2021 school year. The exemption means that any student who is an English learner enrolled in U.S. schools for less than three full school years and has had less than three years of instruction in English as a Second Language program is exempt from retention.

Click here for further information about retention exemptions.

5. How can schools support newcomer English learners who enter high school?
When new students enroll in high school from other countries, schools should consult resources that assist in interpreting transcripts and providing credits for courses. A useful tool to understand courses of study from international education systems is linked here. Ohio’s credit flexibility policy may be helpful during the transcript review to award credits according to students’ previous educational experiences and competencies. Upon registration, current information regarding the local school district’s policy for graduation and promotion of English learners should be communicated to the student and family in a language that is understandable, providing interpretation and translation supports as needed.

High schools should make every effort to support newcomer students using individualized, competency-based approaches to support the development of English language and content area knowledge and skills. Credit flexibility options may be used to develop courses that allow English learners to gain credits towards graduation. For example, a student may be provided the opportunity to gain credits for demonstration of knowledge and skills in a language other than English. Another option is to design meaningful sheltered content courses for students with interrupted education designated as "Other (math, science, social studies)" in the Department’s certification and licensure guidance. The Lau Resource Center provides guidelines around English Language Arts courses for English learners. Schools should include input from students and teachers of English to speakers of other languages to understand how credit flexibility may be part of planning the pathway to graduation.
Adult Education Programs should not be used in lieu of providing high school English learner programs for students aged 16-18. Specific questions about these programs may be directed to the Ohio Department of Education Office for College and Career Readiness and the ASPIRE adult education programs within the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

6. What resources are available for refugee Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE)?
Newcomer students should be enrolled and provided supports as English learner immigrant students. High school administrators, counselors and teachers should collaborate to determine individualized outreach and supports for English learners who are adolescent students with limited or interrupted formal education. Teachers and staff benefit from professional learning about students with limited or interrupted formal education backgrounds and specialized needs. Some no-cost resources include teaching and learning materials from the Cultural Orientation Resource Exchange (CORE); the Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services resource page; and tools such as the Native Language Literacy Assessment. These resources can help educators better understand students’ literacy skills in the home language.

7. May English learners attend high school until age 22?
English learners have the right to9 attend their local high school and gain credits towards graduation through age 21. Students who become 22 during the school year may continue to attend school to complete the semester. Students and families should be provided with information and resources to map out their steps toward graduation and post-secondary options.

Questions regarding serving English learners?

Call the Ohio Department of Education's Office for Integrated Student Supports at (614) 466-4109
or send an email to

Last Modified: 12/8/2020 8:55:37 AM