Depending on your child and your school, being classified as an English learner (also known as EL and ELL) can either be a blessing or a curse. Here’s what you need to know to understand the process and to advocate for your child.

Stage 1: Should you check the box?

A few weeks before your child enters a new school, you get a Home Language Survey in the mail from the district. Your child speaks English, but in your home, languages other than English are spoken. Should you check the box acknowledging that you have a multilingual household?

It may feel deceptive not to check the box but this document can trigger a label that can stick with your child for their entire school career. If you are confident about your child’s English speaking skills, consider not checking the box. This will ensure your child is placed in all-English speaking classes from the beginning. If, on the other hand, your child does not know English, checking the box will ensure they get extra help to build their English skills.

Stage 2: Time for testing!

You’ve already checked that box and you’ve received notice that your district wants to assess your child’s English skills. What should you expect? Tests differ from district to district, but they can be quite extensive and some children whose native language is English do not pass them.

Do you hope the test will recognize that your child is proficient in English? Help your child prepare. Speak to your child about how they shouldn’t be shy about speaking in English during the test. Think your child might freeze up? Practice speaking English in advance with simple, low-stress conversations or even singing songs.

Stage 3: What? Not proficient?!

You’ve gotten the news that your child has been designated an English learner and you have concerns that the label is not appropriate for your child. Contact the school’s English learning specialist and the principal and request to:

1) fill out another Home Language Survey (and don’t check that box) or
2) find out what services and tracking are connected to the EL label in the school and the district. Explain your concerns and your expectations that your child learn English and graduate beyond the label.

Stage 4: Living with a long-term EL label

Your child has had an English learner designation for years and you’re not sure why. Contact the principal to make sure that your child has been assessed on their English proficiency so they can be declassified as soon as possible.

Worried your child isn’t getting into advanced classes? This sometimes happens when children carry an EL label. Inform your child’s school that you expect your child to be able to take advanced classes. When children with an EL classification are prevented from taking rigorous classes, they don’t get the education they deserve.

Next steps:
Want to find out more about the English learner label? Read this story about a mom’s battle with her district.

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