Linking Language Policy to Practice Linking Language Policy to Practice

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Jun 15 12:48:48 UTC 2006

Teaching Diverse Learners

Linking Language Policy to Practice for English Language Learners

Introduction| Legal Rationale:Implications for Rural Schools| Crafting a


Language and educational policies for children new to English in the
United States continue almost spontaneously. This appears to be influenced
by immediate social, political, and economic factors. Data obtained from
the 2000 Census have revealed that the number of children between the ages
of 5 and 17 who speak a language other than English has increased by over
54% from the previous 1990 Census. This information is derived from
self-reported language use and proficiency, and interpretation of the data
by language and education policymakers is just beginning to emerge.
Policymakers will likely use these data to formulate, alter, and institute
language and educational policies affecting children for whom English is a
new language. Such policies will ultimately affect classroom practice and
the ways in which English language learners (ELLs) throughout the United
States are educated. Since 1990, the ELL student population in the U.S.
has increased by 95%, while the school-age population in general has grown
only 12% (Northeast and Islands, 2003). Although the United States does
not have an official national language policy delineating specific
language policies and practices for schools, many states have passed
language policy legislation that ensures the status of English over other
languages. Currently, 26 states in the United States have declared English
as their official language (see Spanish
speakers account for approximately 60% of the total number of ELLs in the
United States.

This Web site is devoted to exploring current language and educational
policies with emphasis on how these policies can be put into practice. We
have highlighted the following areas: A legal rationale for establishing
and implementing policy protective of English language learners The
demographic relevance of ELL policy development for rural schools
Guidelines for crafting a plan that includes indicators for
school/district readiness, ELL identification, assessment, support
systems, exit criteria, and the measurement of policy impact.

Legal Rationale

The foundation for providing ELLs equitable access to learning began with
the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Supreme Court opinions, case law precedent,
and congressional actions following passage of this law have strengthened
the legal rationale for assuring that ELLs receive an equitable education
appropriate to their linguistic and academic needs. With these
protections, there is ongoing, improved clarification about the
implementation of instructional practices that ensure equitable access for
all ELLs in publicly supported programs and practices (Berube, 2000).
Schools are bound by legal provisions that support English language
learners. The educational rights of school-age English language learners
have been safeguarded through a series of legislative acts and court
decisions (see Legal Provisions) that have occurred since the 19th
century. The following information from the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center is
a basic timeline for legal milestones:

 United States Constitution - Fourteenth Amendment: No person is denied
the protection of the laws of the United States.

 Civil Rights Act - Title VI: "No person shall, on the grounds of race,
color or national origin, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to
discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal Financial

 Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA): This act states that schools
need to take appropriate measures to overcome language barriers that
impede students' participation in programs.

 Supreme Court Case -- Lau v. Nichols: The court ruled that giving all
students the same desks, books, teachers, and lessons does not mean that
they have equal opportunity, especially if there are students who do not
speak English.

 Federal Court Case -- Serna v. Portales: The court ascertained that
Spanish surnamed individuals did not reach the same achievement levels as
non-Spanish surnamed peers. The court ordered the Portales Municipal
School District to design and implement a bilingual and bicultural

 Federal Court Case -- Castaneda v. Pickard: The Fifth Circuit Court
established a three-part test to determine if school districts are
complying with the EEOA of 1974. The requirements include:

Theory - The school must implement a program based on sound educational
theory or, at a minimum, a legitimate experimental program design.
Practice - The school district must put into practice the educational
program they have designed. They must allocate the necessary personnel and
practices to transfer theory to practice.
Results - The school must stop programs that fail to produce results.

 Supreme Court Case - Plyler v. Doe: The court ruled that schools cannot
deny students access simply because they are undocumented (illegal)
aliens. In other words, the schools are not agencies or agents for
enforcing immigration law.

 Federal Court Case - Gomez v. Illinois: The court ruled that the State
Educational Agencies must also comply with the three-point test
established in Castaneda v. Pickard.

 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 - This act makes federal funding
for states dependent on student progress. According to the act: "States
that do not meet their performance objectives for LEP students could lose
up to ten percent of the administrative portion of their funding for all
ESEA state administered formula grant programs."

Why should a school district have a policy in place specifically for its
English language learners? School districts must implement policies for
equal access of students for whom English is a second or new language.
Those policies are set at the level of the local school board, but they
may never supersede federal or state law. These policies may be referred
to as a Lau Plan or an Equal Access Plan and may supplement a more
comprehensive plan protective of the rights of all students. The important
point is that school districts must develop policy, and practice must
reflect that policy. It may be helpful to view some examples of common
misunderstandings that may arise regarding the need for an Equal Access

Of course, educational policies created at the national level are
negotiated at the state and local school district levels as supports are
provided to schools, teachers, and their students. In this way, federal
policies affect classroom practice in the micro-interactions that occur
between teachers and students (Cummins, 2001). Faced with the task of
providing consistent and quality instruction within the current
socio-cultural climate, content area and English-as-a-second-language
teachers, as well as building administrators, are often left to navigate
policy complexities and even contradictions with no support beyond their
borders. Their tasks are uniquely daunting, given the complexity and
interaction of the varied social, political, legal, and economic contexts
needed to support the nation's 5 million English language learners, 40% of
whom are enrolled in rural schools.

How effective is your school's equity policy? Take this quiz to determine
your school's Equity Policy Quotient (EPQ).


Legal Rationale: Implications for Rural Schools
What is the definition of a rural community? Low numbers of English
language learners (ELL) are characteristic of most schools situated in
rural communities. Berube (2000) notes in Managing ESL Programs in Rural
and Small Urban Schools that rural schools typically enroll as few as one
to as many as 500 ELL students in district-wide programs of ESL
instruction. How does one know that a given community is indeed rural? The
answer is: it depends.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says:

Rural communities are in small country towns, defined by geographic
isolation from other communities, absence of large metropolitan centers,
low-density settlement patterns, historic dependence on agriculture, and
continual population loss, out-migration, and economic upheaval or
economic distress.

Title VI under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 says:

The local education agency is rural if the total number of students in
average daily attendance at all its schools is fewer than 600, or each
county served by that school has a total population density of fewer than
ten persons per square mile, and all of its schools meet the definition of
rural as described by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The National Center for Education Statistics says:

A small town is not within a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and has a
population of less than 25,000 and greater than or equal to 2,500 people.
A rural town exists inside or outside an MSA if its population is less
than 2,500 people and coded rural by the MSA.

Most schools in rural communities enroll very few students for whom
English is a second or new language. Sometimes, interventions in small
schools are dealt with as they occur without formal procedures. The issue
of developing a comprehensive plan or policy for ESL in a small school may
seem out of place.

The following facts illustrate the dramatic need for quality interventions
for ELL students in rural schools:

44% of America's ELL students live in rural communities.

Only 30% of the states have fewer than 5000 ELL students statewide.

33% of America's towns enroll ELL students.

Enrollments are too low to establish a bilingual education program.

ELL student enrollment growth across the USA is greater in rural than in
urban schools.

Rural schools are more Caucasian than urban schools are.

Rural schools lack credentialed ELL teachers; they tend to hire tutors or
classroom aides instead of teachers.

Rural schools tend to be distant from universities.

There are no national models for ELL rural programs and policies,
affecting the knowledge base of best practices.

Rural teaching does not reflect the diversity of most of America.

Urban ELL students transferring to rural schools are not likely to
experience the kind of program that may have been available to them in an
urban school.

Rural schools lack the political power base that urban schools have.

Rural schools have nearly no access to federal discretionary grants for
ELL. What access they have yields few resources.

Rural schools often have no access to state funds designated for ELLs
because their ELL enrollments are too low.

Teachers in rural schools tend to know little about ELL methodology,
multiculturalism, ELL curriculum development, ELL assessment, and second
language acquisition theory.

Administrators in rural schools, though perhaps well intentioned, do not
tend to place ELL policy, budget, and other support mechanisms, very high
among the school's priorities.

Ensuring that ELL students are not marginalized requires a special effort
in rural schools, because the rights of English language learners and
their access to appropriate instructional programs are not limited by the
number of students in a school. For more information on the challenges of
respect, recognition, and responsibility in rural schools, see Berube's
(2002) "Three R's for ESL Instruction in Rural Schools: A Test of
Commitment" at


Crafting a Plan
What is a Lau Plan? A Lau plan, named after the landmark Lau vs. Nichols
U.S. Supreme Court Decision of 1974, is one equal access plan that
protects ELLs. The plan describes what a school district will do:

to identify its ELLs,

to design an effective program reflective of their needs,

to employ appropriate English-as-a-second-language or bilingual personnel
(or both),

to align the instruction of ELLs to state and local content standards, and

to provide ongoing authentic assessments to ascertain their growth in
English language proficiency and in the comprehension of academic content.
Because the plan requires school board or school committee approval, no
administrator or other staff member of the school district may veto,
alter, or affect implementation that is contrary to the Lau plan. They
may, however, submit revisions and updates for subsequent board action as
frequently as necessary. A Lau plan is a "working document" that should be
revisited frequently.

Essential components of a Lau Plan include the legal foundation, student
assessments, an instructional plan, parental involvement, qualified
personnel, a coordination plan, a budget, adjunct services, and other
possible considerations.

Steps for Creating a Lau Plan

Present a rationale for the plan. Cite the legal foundation for the Lau
Plan as established in law. The most common citations are listed on this
site under Legal Provisions. Add citations specific to your state, if they

Create a committee to implement the plan. A language assessment committee
(LAC) is created at either the building or district level. The committee
is established to advise on identifying, serving, assessing, and
eventually exiting an English language learner from a language support
system. It also serves to notify parents about upcoming testing. The
committee meets on a regular basis to monitor the language and academic
progress of ELL students, including those who may have exited the program.
The committee may also meet with the entire school staff to inform them of
their observations and recommendations for meeting the ELL needs.

The committee recommends revisions to the Lau Plan as needed; these
revisions are eventually re-submitted to the school committee for
approval. The committee may consist of an administrator, a guidance
counselor, academic content teachers, the ESL teacher, and tutor or
translator, if there is one. Some members may be temporary, rotating, or

Create an assessment system to identify English language learners.
Assessments for entry into a language support system should be based on
several criteria rather than a single test. More detailed information is
available in questions on student assessment and in the Initial Assessment
section of this Web site. In general, the following considerations should

Establish the presence of a student's non-English language background.
This may be done through the use of a home language survey.

Conduct an assessment of the language background of the ELL student by
using a language proficiency instrument. A listing of publishers of the
most common and reliable English language assessment tools is available at

Review multiple sources to assure authentic assessment information;
sources may include student writing samples, portfolios, exhibitions,
demonstrations, oral interviews, and other assessment formats solicited
from teachers and colleagues.

Create a service delivery plan for English language learners. An
appropriate program and comprehensible academic studies are developed to
accommodate the student's English proficiency level needs. Such a program
is aligned to state and local standards as required by statute.

A description of an ESL program would include a schedule of ESL
instruction developed with the student's ESL and regular content teacher,
integrative materials used to support that instruction, extracurricular
activities, a line item budget dedicated to supporting the ESL program,
and ancillary services (e.g., interpreter services, speech pathology,
computer literacy, special needs, gifted/talented) as appropriate.

Establish criteria for reclassification, transfer, and exit from the
support system. Document the results of all authentic assessments used to
determine student exit from the ESL program. Formative multiple measures
are needed that include language proficiency tests, psychometric tests,
portfolios, and a comprehensive review of all aspects of ELL student
performance (just as in Step 3). This determination is made by a language
assessment committee -- not a single individual.

Engage qualified personnel. As with other instructional personnel, ESL
staff must be qualified with academic preparation in
English-as-a-second-language, as stipulated in the 1991 Office of Civil
Rights Memorandum. Such credentials are often part of a state teacher
licensure system. Typically, ESL support services that do not supplant the
standard curriculum may be provided by an education aide who is supervised
by an ESL teacher in collaboration with the student's regular classroom
teacher(s). More specifics are available in questions on personnel

Set guidelines for monitoring reclassified, exited students. When
transferring an ELL student to another program or reclassifying him/her as
English fluent, multiple assessments (such as those described in Steps 3
and 5) must occur. Teachers in the student's new setting (with coordinated
support of the ESL teacher) will assess the English-fluent student's
academic performance with a view to observing English mastery (reading,
writing, speaking, and listening) in formal and informal venues. Mastery
of course objectives may require the use of criterion reference testing
and other tools to determine how the student compares with his/her
English-only peers. Language assessment committee members should follow up
on the placement's impact within two weeks of the transfer and continue
periodic monitoring for three years after the exit from ESL. Sometimes, it
becomes necessary for an ELL to return to a partial ESL intervention.

Submit the plan to the school superintendent for review. The team that
wrote or revised the Lau plan presents its draft to the superintendent or
an administrative team for their review. Once the plan is set to be
presented as part of the school board or committee's public agenda, those
closest to the plan should appear before the school board and
superintendent to respond to questions or comments they may have about the

Superintendent seeks school board approval of the plan. Once the school
board approves the superintendent's plan, the Lau plan becomes the
official policy of the school district regarding equal access to students
of limited English proficiency. It must be strictly adhered to until or
unless it is revised and re-submitted to the school board.
Sample Plans: The State of Maine Department of Education presents several
examples of Lau Plans that may be viewed at



[return]  Berube, B. (2000). Managing ESL programs in rural and small
urban schools. Arlington, VA: TESOL, Inc.

[return]  Berube, B. (2002, September/October/November). The three R's for
ESL instruction in U.S. rural schools: A test of commitment. TESOL
Matters, 12(4). Available:

[return]  Cummins, J. (2001). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual
children in the crossfire. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

[return]  Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory. (2003).
Claiming opportunities: A handbook for improving education for English
language learners through comprehensive school reform. Providence, RI:
Brown University.

The Education Alliance at Brown University

222 Richmond Street, Suite 300, Providence, RI 02903-4226
Phone: 401/274-9548 | 800/521-9550 | FAX: 401/421-7650 | TTY: 800/745-5555

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