English Language Learners (ELL)  

Programs and Support

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Who is an English language learner?

An English language learner (ELL) student is defined as a linguistically and culturally diverse (LCD) student who has an overall English Language Proficiency (ELP) level of 1-4 on the ACCESS for ELLs™ test administered each year. 

Students who reach ELP Level 5 or above are considered English Proficient (EP) students and are no longer ELL students. 

ELL students also may be called “limited English proficient” (LEP) in legal documents.

DCPS serves more than 4,200 ELL students (see our Fact Sheet below). Our students come from 133 different countries and speak 107 different languages.

The five languages other than English spoken most often are:

  • Spanish
  • Vietnamese
  • Chinese
  • Amharic
  • French 

ELL students receive services that help them attain English language proficiency and be academically successful.

How are students placed in ELL programs?

Every parent enrolling a child in DCPS must complete a home language survey. If the survey indicates that the child might qualify for ELL services, the district then assesses the child’s English proficiency in the four domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing through the English language screener proficiency test (IPT, W-APT or K-WAPT). 

The school will provide a welcome letter (see below) to families indicating additional steps to follow. Parents and guardians of children who qualify for ELL services have the legal right to be informed, in a language they can understand, about the available programs and services. They can then choose the program they believe best fits their child’s needs.

Students who score a Level 1 to Level 4.9 on the screener test are eligible for services and will participate in the annual language proficiency test, ACCESS for ELLs™  each spring until they score an ELP level 5, which indicates the student should exit the program. 

Students who score a level 5 or above are no longer eligible for services (because they are proficient in English), but they will be monitored for a two-year period in case a re-evaluation is necessary.

What types of ELL programs are available?

Content-Based English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs: The academic content areas of English/language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics are used as the vehicle for language learning and to ensure that students master academic content and performance standards. Instruction is primarily in English, although native language support is provided when necessary and when possible. These classes are taught by ESL-certified teachers.

Dual Language Education Programs: Students in this instructional program develop literacy skills in their native language while simultaneously learning a second language. Students must master standards in both languages. Instruction occurs in both of the languages supported by the program. (Bancroft: grades PreK–5; Bruce-Monroe: grades PreK-5; Cleveland: grades PreK-5; Oyster/Adams: grades PreK-8; Marie Reed: grades PreK-5, Powell: grades PreK-3; Tyler: grades PreK-2).

Secondary Newcomer Literacy Program: This program supports those immigrant students who come to DCPS with a limited formal education background and prepares them to become successful both in school and in the post-secondary world. Classes provide students with core academic and literacy skills and knowledge that address gaps in their prior education. This is a full-day intensive program that focuses on literacy development, language acquisition, and mastery of academic content. In addition, the program offers orientation on adapting to the life, culture, and educational system in the United States, as well as tutoring, parent workshops, and links to community resources. (McFarland MS and Roosevelt SHS).

Sheltered Content: The goal of Sheltered Content programs is for ELL students to develop English proficiency, content knowledge, and academic language skills such that they can enjoy success in mainstream classes with no ELL services. Sheltered classes are taught by either a dually certified teacher who holds licenses both in ESL and in the content being taught, or a content-certified teacher who has completed a minimum of 90 hours of professional development in ESL instruction.

Opting Out: After the students take the screener test and are found eligible, parents/guardians can choose to have their children opt out of these programs by submitting a written letter to the Office of Bilingual Education. Please note that even if the parent chooses to opt out of receiving ELL services, ELL students in regular education are still eligible to receive additional support services and will be considered ELLs until they score a ELP level 5 or above on the spring assessment.

What is the ACCESS for ELLs™ test?

The Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State to State (ACCESS for ELLs™) test places students in English language proficiency (ELP) levels 1 to 5.

DCPS provides services to students scoring levels 1 to 4 and exits students from support programs when they reach Level 5.

See the chart below for an explanation of the five scoring levels. It is expected that at level 5, students are ready to meet state academic content standards with no language support services. ACCESS for ELLs™ measures language across the four domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and across the following content areas: social and instructional English, language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Level  Name Description
1 Entering Knows and uses minimal social language and minimal academic language with visual and graphic support.
2 Beginning Knows and uses some social English and general academic language with visual and graphic support.
3 Developing Knows and uses social English and some specific academic language with visual and graphic support.
4 Expanding Knows and uses social English and some technical academic language.
5 Bridging Knows and uses social English and academic language working with modified grade level material.


For more information, visit the Wida Website.

Who do I contact for help?

Office of Bilingual Education
Office of Bilingual Education, Garrison Administrative Unit – East Wing
1200 S Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Main Office: 202-671-0750
Fax: 202-671-2667
Office Hours: 7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Intake and Assessment Center: 202-671-2344 (Marsella Herran, Coordinator)
Appointments for orientation, initial language screening, and information on how to register.

Family & Community Engagement: 202-671-0755 (Ivy Chaine, Coordinator)
Foreign transcript evaluation, translation, and interpretation services.

Language Access: 202-671-0754 (Arnoldo Ramos, Coordinator)
Community and parent liaison, outreach, and compliance.

Instructional Support

  • Secondary ESL Programs: 202-671-0762 (Jeanne Castro, Content Specialist)
  • Elementary ESL Programs: 202-671-0761 (Lorna Jefferson, Content Specialist)
  • Dual Language Programs: 202-671-2591 (Katarina Brito, Dual Language Developer)
  • Professional Development: 202-671-0750 (Deborah Maatta, Language Acquisition Coach)

Data and Assessment for ELLs: 202-671-0751 (Margaret Miller, IT Specialist) Student test histories, language test scores, enrollment reports, and school reports.

Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE): State English language proficiency standards, accommodation for State Test, and education laws.

Acronyms and Definitions of Terms

ACCESS for ELLs™ – Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners. This large-scale test addresses the academic English language proficiency (ELP) standards at the core of the WIDA Consortium's approach to instructing and evaluating the progress of English language learners. The ACCESS for ELLs™ test is the annual assessment required by NCLB.

AMAO – Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives. AMAOs are set annually by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and specify the percentage of ESOL students yearly who are expected to progress toward English language proficiency (AMAO I), attain English language proficiency (AMAO II), and demonstrate adequate yearly progress in reading and math at the county level (AMAO III). The AMAOs are assessed through the ACCESS for ELLs™ test.

AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress. Under NCLB, each state establishes a definition of AYP that is used annually to determine the achievement of each school district and school in both reading and mathematics. States then identify for improvement any school that does not meet the state's definition of AYP for two consecutive years. AYP is designed to ensure continuous improvement each year toward the goal of 100% proficiency in 2014.

CTBS – Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills in Mathematics.

ELL – English Language Learner. An ELL is a student who uses another language in addition to or other than English.

ELP – English Language Proficiency. ELP is the degree to which a student is able to use standard American English as the language of instruction.

FEP – Fluent English Proficient

DC CAS – D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System. DC CAS is the annual assessment in reading and mathematics that the District of Columbia uses under NCLB to measure Adequate Yearly Progress.

DC BAS – D.C. Benchmark Assessment System. DC BAS is the system of interim assessments that are used throughout the academic year to measure students’ progress towards proficiency in reading and mathematics on the DC CAS.

DC STARS – Student Tracking and Reporting System. DC STARS is DCPS’s student information system, which contains all the information about students’ attendance, grades, transcripts, and graduation requirements, among other things.

HLS - Home Language Survey. All students enrolling in DCPS take the HLS to determine if language screening and ELL services may be necessary.

IPT – The Pre-Idea Proficiency Test. The IPT is the language screening test given to 3-year-olds.

K-WAPT – Kindergarten-WIDA Assessment Placement Test. K-WAPT is the language screening test given to kindergarten students.

LCD – Linguistically and Culturally Diverse.

LEP – Limited English Proficient. LEP is an acronym used at the federal level to describe English language learners who participate in ESL programs.

NCLB – No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. NCLB expands the scope and frequency of student testing, revamps accountability systems and guarantees that every teacher is qualified in their subject area. It also requires states to made demonstrable annual progress in raising the percentage of students proficient in reading and math.

NEP - Non-English Proficient

OBE – Office of Bilingual Education, District of Columbia Public Schools

OELA – Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, & Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students, U. S. Department of Education

OCR - Office for Civil Rights

OSSE – Office of the State Superintendent of Education

PHLOTE – Primary Home Language Other than English

SABE – Spanish Assessment of Basic Education

SPI – Student/Parent Interview Form

WIDA – World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment

W-APT – WIDA-ACCESS Placement Test. W-APT is the language screening test given to students in grades 1 and higher.

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