Fact Sheet: NCLB Provisions Ensure Flexibility and Accountability for Limited English Proficient Students
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Issue One: Assessing Limited English Proficient Students

Limited English proficient (LEP) students new to the United States often have a difficult time participating in state assessments due to language barriers or the lack of schooling prior to arriving in the United States from their native countries. Thus, it is often difficult to assess LEP students’ content knowledge in reading and other language arts in their first year of enrollment in a U.S. public school. A number of states have students representing more than 100 languages, making it virtually impossible to provide native language assessments for all students.


Allow LEP students, during their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools, to have the option of taking the reading/language arts content assessment in addition to taking the English language proficiency assessment. These students would also take the mathematics assessment, with accommodations as appropriate. States may, but would not be required to, include results from the mathematics and, if given, the reading/language arts content assessments in Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) calculations—part of the accountability requirements under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Students would be counted as participants for AYP purposes for the 95 percent testing requirement, which ensures that all children count and receive the quality education they deserve.


This flexibility provides teachers and students more time for English language instruction and acquisition. The policy is grounded in common sense: states are not required to develop native language assessments, and even those that have developed a few native language assessments will not likely cover the gamut of all languages found within a state.

Issue Two: LEP Students as a "Subgroup"

A second issue concerns the definition of the limited English proficient subgroup itself. LEP is not a demographic group per se, but a classification that changes as a student gains language proficiency. Its membership can change from year to year with language proficient students exiting each year and new LEP students entering each year. Since LEP students exit the subgroup once they attain English language proficiency, states may have difficulty demonstrating improvements on state assessments for this student subgroup.


For AYP calculations, allow states for up to two years to include in the LEP subgroup students who have attained English proficiency.


This policy is an option for states, not a requirement. It would give states the flexibility to ensure that AYP calculations credit schools and local education agencies (LEAs) for improving English language proficiency from year to year. The concept of including students who have exited the LEP subgroup for up to two years is consistent with Title III of the law, which requires Title III-funded schools to include in their evaluations for two years academic achievement data of students who used to be in the LEP group but who no longer receive Title III services.

This option provides an incentive for states to help students attain full proficiency in both the English language and in the academic content areas of reading/language arts and mathematics. It also serves as a response to the complaint that schools do not receive credit for the good work they have done helping LEP students attain full proficiency.

Using Already Existing Flexibility

Definition of the LEP subgroup:

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

Minimum group size:

States can also make an argument for needing a larger number of LEP students within a school for AYP purposes. Following a precedent set by other states with special education students, this option would reduce the number of schools that have LEP students as an accountability subgroup and improve the validity of AYP determinations.

General LEP Facts

  • Limited English proficient students (LEP) are also known as English language learners (ELL).
  • There are 5.5 million LEP students in U.S. public schools who speak more than 400 different languages. Eighty percent of LEP students speak Spanish as their first language.
  • Under Title I and Title III, NCLB provides more than $13 billion (FY 04 funding) for LEP students for English language acquisition and academic achievement.
  • With the support of funds provided through NCLB, states are developing better assessments and accommodations for LEP students. A few states are creating assessments for LEP students that will serve the dual purposes of assessing a student’s academic knowledge in reading/language arts as well as English language proficiency. Other states are working together to better understand what accommodations are needed for LEP students.

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Last Modified: 02/19/2004