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English as a Second Language

There are approximately 47,567 English Language Learners (ELLs) speaking in 229 different languages in Pennsylvania. The education of students whose dominant language is not English and who are ELLs is the responsibility of every Local Education Agency (LEA). Title 22, Chapter 4, Section 4.26 of the Curriculum Regulations requires the LEA to provide a program for every student who is limited English proficient (LEP) or an English language learner (ELL).
The goal of English as a Second Language (ESL) programs is to facilitate the acquisition of English language skills of students whose native or first language is not English. Without core program instruction in social and academic English and appropriate support, these students are at risk of losing the educational opportunities provided to students generally.

ESL Program Development

22 PA. Code §4.26 states: Every school district shall provide a program for each student whose dominant language is not English for the purpose of facilitating the student's achievement of English proficiency and the academic standards under § 4.12 (relating to academic standards).  Programs under this section shall include appropriate bilingual-bicultural or English as a second language (ESL) instruction. 

The term "program" refers to: (1) planned instruction by a qualified ESL/bilingual teacher, (2) adaptations/modifications in the delivery of content instruction by all teachers based on the student's language proficiency level and the Pennsylvania English Language Proficiency Standards (PA ELPS) for ELLs as well as Pennsylvania's academic standards. Each LEA must have a written ESL Program that addresses the key components of the Program that an LEA must provide to every ELL.  The Basic Education Circular Educating Students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and English Language Learners (ELL) provides LEAs with the requirements and interpretations of the legal mandates governing the education of students with LEP, also known as ELLs.

Educating Students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and English Language Learners (ELL) (PDF) outlines program regulations and guidance for ESL in Pennsylvania.


English Language Proficiency Standards

Pennsylvania's English Language Proficiency Standards for English Language Learners (ELPS for ELLs) have been carefully developed to meet compliance with the requirements of Title I and Title III of the NCLB act of 2001 by providing a framework for standards-based instructional and assessment planning for ELLs so that they may attain English proficiency, develop high levels of academic attainment in English, and meet the same challenging academic content standards that all children are expected to meet.

Standards Aligned System

The Standards Aligned System (SAS) is the Pennsylvania Department of Education digital curriculum and instruction resource site.  The SAS is a comprehensive, researched-based resource to improve student achievement. The SAS is comprised of six distinct elements which provide a common framework for continuous student, teacher, and school and district growth. The elements are Standards, Assessment, Curriculum Framework, Instruction, Materials and Resources and Safe and Supportive Schools. The SAS portal is designed to organize and deliver educational content carefully aligned to Pennsylvania Academic Standards. In addition to the PA ELPS, there are many instructional resources such as the ELL Overlays for teachers of ELLs available on the Standards Aligned System. 


Certification and Staffing Policy Guideline (CPSG) 68 - Program Specialist pertains to ESL certification.
Questions regarding certification requirements should be directed to the Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Quality.

Family Engagement/Communication 

PDE, in collaboration with Chester County Intermediate Unit, provides access to TransAct, an online school document translation service that allows every district, every school, and every educator in Pennsylvania with professional multilingual parent notifications to effectively meet the parent communication requirements mandated by NCLB and the OCR. The following step-by-step instructions provide information on how to use the TransAct parent notices site. 

Special Populations

Foreign Exchange Students: Foreign exchange students come to our country to experience the American culture and at the same time provide our students with the opportunity to learn from other cultures. The PDE supports the educational and cultural values of these programs and encourages LEAs to participate in and support these cultural enriching programs.

Foreign exchange students are not required to:  

  • Be identified through administration of Pennsylvania's home language survey as a student with a primary or home language other than English
  • Be assessed for English language proficiency and placement in an English language instructional programs
  • Be identified in PIMS as an ELL or immigrant student
  • Participate in the annual state English language proficiency assessment 

However, foreign exchange students are required to participate in the state academic assessments, and their participation is attributed to the host family's district of residence and to the state.

English Language Learners in Special Education:
The PDE's Bureau of Special Education and Bureau of Teaching and Learning have developed guidelines regarding the identification and instruction of ELLs who may have disabilities. These guidelines will address the role of ESL teachers, planning for the instructional program and making exit decisions for students with disabilities.  Additional information regarding ELLs and special education is available in the Questions and answers regarding ELLs and Special Education

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