On August 29, 2012, the US Department of Education officially released “A Survey of States’ English Language Proficiency Standards,” a report authored by edCount, LLC as part of the National Evaluation of Title III Implementation. The report is based on edCount’s analysis of the content, organization, and structure of the English language proficiency (ELP) standards for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), states’ ELP standards must define expectations for English language proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening in kindergarten through grade 12. Further, these standards are meant to drive English language instruction that supports English learners’ access to curriculum, instruction, and assessment in academic content areas.

To complete this analysis, edCount collected ELP standards and supplemental documents for all 50 states and the District of Columbia via web searches and follow up contact with state personnel as needed. The analyses were designed to address four central questions:

  1. Are states’ ELP standards structured to address expectations from kindergarten through grade 12 in each of the reading, writing, speaking, and listening domains, as required under ESEA?
  2. How are states’ ELP standards designed to support the achievement of academic standards, as required under ESEA? (This study examined states’ ELP standards for inclusion of references to core content areas, but did not include a direct review of states’ academic content standards.)
  3. How do states’ ELP standards reflect the principles of academic English language acquisition, including recognition that language varies across situations and purposes; prioritization of academic English; and the prevalence of phonological, lexical, grammatical and functional linguistic components?
  4. How accessible are states’ ELP standards to educators for curriculum and assessment development? To what extent do they include performance descriptors to support instruction, specific suggestions for classroom activity and attention to particular principles of second language acquisition?

edCount found that the ELP standards used in most states were structured to address separate expectations in several grade clusters within the K-12 range, but standards in a few states were not articulated to represent different expectations across grades. Many, but not all, sets of ELP standards included clear links to language (e.g., vocabulary, grammatical structures, discourse features) necessary to access academic content. Most standards included at least some references to the principles of second language acquisition, but only about half of states have standards that provide specific instructional suggestions, and fewer still include expectations that focus specifically on academic English language proficiency. This report provides details related to these and other findings as well as real-life illustrative samples of common themes across different sets of standards.

Overall, the findings from this study indicate that most states took steps to address the NCLB requirements for ELP standards, either by revising their own standards or by adopting the ELP standards developed by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) consortium. However, it appears that ELP standards in some states still may not provide adequate support for the acquisition of academic English. This suggests that educators in some states could benefit from clearer specifications about how to guide their students’ acquisition of academic English and access to academic content instruction.

This report is among several produced as part of the National Evaluation of Title III Implementation, commissioned by the US Department of Education’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) also recently released a “Report on State and District Implementation” of Title III, to which edCount staff also contributed by conducting site visits and structured interviews with state and district administrators of Title III programs.