Administrator’s Guidance for English Learner Programs

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Delivering effective instruction that meets English learners’ linguistic and cultural needs requires planning and innovation on the part of educators and school administrators.

The purpose of this webpage is to provide guidance and resources for administrative decisions related to the needs of English learners and their families. This webpage addresses the areas below:

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.
  • English learner plans: Schools and districts have the obligation to provide English learner supports across learning approaches offered to all students. Schools enrolling English learners, whether learning is conducted in-person or online, must ensure that English learner students can participate meaningfully and equally in educational programs. Language instruction 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 English learner language support plans, engaging culturally and linguistically diverse members of the school community to review and provide input.
  • Translation services:  Families require oral and written translation support as schools communicate information about their back to school plans. Schools and districts should determine how oral interpretation and written translation will be provided in a timely manner to families that require language assistance. 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 members of 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 and provide feedback on support plans and processes for families and staff to follow.
  • 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 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 families 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 families 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 families 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 families, 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: Families 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.


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Enrolling and Registering English Learners

Schools and districts can take proactive steps to minimize cultural and linguistic barriers faced by English learners during the school 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 families 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. To facilitate this, some schools, such as the Cincinnati Academy of World Languages, publish an online form where families can request interpreters to communicate with educators. Communication preferences and 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 law (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 services 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:[i]

  • 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 families with information: School districts with effective family engagement practices take proactive steps to inform families of their educational rights and responsibilities. For example, to orient newcomer families to the local education system and its processes, districts such as North Olmsted City connect families with community members who speak the same language and offer multilingual orientations. The Ohio Department of Education granted CARES funding to Educational Services Centers (ESCs) to hire a Family and Community Partnership Liaison to meet the needs of vulnerable youth and families disproportionately impacted by COVID –19.  The ESC Family and Community Partnership Liaisons can assist in connecting districts with resources, community organizations and other supports for English learners. To learn more about the ESC Family and Community Partnership Liaisons, visit the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center webpage.
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.


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Identification and Placement of English Learners

The following section explains and provides resources related to the Every Student Succeeds Act 3113 (b)(2). To meet the requirement to provide equal educational access to students who are national origin minority, all Ohio schools must establish and implement standardized, statewide entrance and exit procedures for students who are English learners within 30 days of the student's enrollment. For more information on the identification of English learners, visit Guidelines for the Identification of English learners.
Step 1: Language Usage Survey. Schools administer the Language Usage Survey (LUS) to all families and students enrolling for the first time in Ohio schools. When necessary, families may complete the survey by telephone or other means. Families 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.

In cases of students who are transferring from schools outside of Ohio, assessment of English learner status using the standardized identification process must occur within 30 days of enrollment. In determining the English learner status of students who transfer from another State, students who come from States that administer the ELPA21 tests, schools and districts may honor the English learner status. Ohio’s exit criteria would be applied to the prior ELPA21 results of those students. However, because the criteria that are used to determine English language proficiency vary across States, students who have not been identified and tested with the ELPA21 assessments should be rescreened. This allows for more consistency in the use of Title III funds to supplement the English learner programs Ohio schools provide. In cases of students who are transferring from other schools within Ohio, the student’s English learner classification status should transfer with the student.

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: School administrators should provide training and reminders to school staff who administer the language usage survey, keeping the following points in mind:

  • Complete the identification of English learners and parent notification within 30 days of the beginning of the school year.
  • Orient families 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.
  • Use information from the Language Usage Survey, student records and the screener to plan language instruction and student access to the curriculum.
  • 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.

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Providing Instruction to English Learners

School administrators are responsible[ii] (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.
  • 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 materials available at INFOhio’s Transparent Language Online site,  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.


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Exiting English Learners

Districts and administrators 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).

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 [iii] 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.

Questions about the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment may be directed to:

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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 be leveraged to decrease equity gaps that may have been exacerbated due to the ordered school-building closure. Schools and districts may use funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and other federal relief funds to provide the continuum of language services for students who are English learners and families with language barriers. In addition, Title III funds may be used to provide professional learning related to technology for online or hybrid learning plans.


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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. 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 domain exemptions indicated on the individualized education plan to receive the formal identification as an English Learner.
3. 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.

4. 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.

5. May English learners attend high school until age 22?
English learners have the right to[iv]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.

6. Can an English learner be retained in a grade?
If an English Learner is retained solely on the basis of his/her lack of English proficiency, such retention would be discriminatory because in effect, the English learner would be retained for not having adequate prior exposure to English. To justify the retention of an English learner, the district would need to give evidence that 1) the student has been provided with an educationally sound English language support program, and 2) the student is being retained for reasons other than lack of English proficiency (for example, if the student did not meet grade-level standards due to poor attendance, lack of effort, or poor study habits).
Here are some questions that need to be answered before deciding to retain an ELL student:

  • Does the district have a retention policy that takes into account different factors that may impact students’ academic progress?
  • Is the reason for retaining the student other than the student’s lack of English proficiency?
  • Has the student been given meaningful access to the district’s academic program through language support strategies based on sound theory and widely-accepted good practice?
  • Has the student been given academic performance-based assessments that are based on the student’s level of English proficiency, and that take into consideration the instructional strategies used to give the student meaningful access to the academic content?
  • Is the student making less progress than what would be expected of students with similar language background and academic experiences?

If the answer to all the above questions is “yes,” then the district may consider retention as a possible option for helping the student achieve English proficiency and make academic progress. Of course, the district will need to make sure that in whichever grade the student is placed, an appropriate, comprehensive and evidence-based language development program is provided.

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

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Last Modified: 3/22/2022 10:36:14 AM