ESL Frequently Asked Questions
What is an English as a Second Language (ESL) program?
An ESL program is a school district's written plan for educating ELLs to both improve their English language proficiency and to assure that they meet the academic standards in the content areas. The program, therefore, considers the entire curriculum for students, including their entry and exit criteria.
Who is responsible to provide ESL instruction?
Every school district/charter school 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. Programs shall include appropriate bilingual-bicultural or English as a second language (ESL) instruction.
What funds are available to pay for ESL instruction?
There are no categorical state funds available. Supplemental services may be provided from federal funds. Since ESL curriculum is a basic educational program for the ELLs, the basic cost of the first instruction should be part of the budget planning. Each school district/charter school should allot funds for resources and teachers based on the number of ELLs currently enrolled. If the ESL population has been increasing yearly, anticipated increases should be budgeted. The amount allocated for ELLs and the ESL program should be in proportion to amounts spent for the general population and basic programs. (For example: the cost per child for English language arts instruction should be the same as the cost per child for ESL instruction.)
What is required to register an English Language Learner (ELL) in a PA public school?
The only requirement for registration of a student in a Pennsylvania public school is an immunization record and proof of residency in the district. The proof of residency can be a copy of a rental receipt or any other viable evidence of parent or guardian residency. The district may ask parents for additional information that is helpful in meeting the student's educational needs, but it is not appropriate to withhold the student from school for any amount of time due to the lack of this additional information, including a social security number or birth certificate. Subjecting them to scrutiny that is not part of the normal enrollment process is discriminatory and may place the school district/charter school at risk of legal action.
Any person with an Instructional I or II certificate and appropriate training may teach in the ESL program. In addition, the person should have appropriate training to teach ESL classes.
A school district is not required to provide ESL program instruction at the nonpublic school. A nonpublic school student may participate in an ESL program that is operating at the public school. The parent of the nonpublic school student can request dual enrolment at the public school in order to participate in the ESL program that is operating at the public school. For reimbursement purposes, membership and attendance of nonpublic school pupils lawfully enrolled part time in the public schools shall be calculated by counting the time the pupils spend in the public school program on a pro rata basis. The school district will complete the proper Child Accounting Form to receive reimbursement for the time the nonpublic student attends the public school.
The parent has the responsibility to provide the transportation to the public school at the appropriate time during the day for the nonpublic school student to attend the ESL program. The school does not have to change the ESL program time to accommodate the parent or nonpublic school student. The school district does not have to create an ESL class for a nonpublic school student if the school district does not have an ESL class for public school students.
What are the district/charter school ESL responsibilities regarding admission of foreign exchange students?
Exchange students must receive ESL program series as per their English proficiency level. The admission of foreign exchange students is left to the discretion of the local school district. Every child, being a resident of any school district, between the ages of six and 21 years, may attend the public schools in his district. The board of school directors of any school district may admit to the schools of the district, with or without the payment of tuition, any nonresident child temporarily residing in the district, and may require the attendance of such nonresident child in the same manner and on the same conditions as it requires the attendance of a resident child. The board of school directors of any school district may permit any nonresident pupils to attend the public schools in its district upon such terms as it may determine, subject to the provision of Act 24 PS 13-1326.
Must ELLs participate in the state assessment (PSSA)?
Students identified as ELL are entitled to a one-time exemption from the PSSA if the district has determined that their language deficits are severe enough to prevent them from participation in the assessment in a meaningful way.
The survey is the tool used to meet the requirement that school districts identify students with a primary or home language other than English (PHLOTE). The school district must maintain a list of students with another language in their background. It is the document that must be completed for each student enrolled in the public/charter school that determines the dominant language spoken in the home and the possible needs of ESL services. School districts need to set up a procedure to complete the Home Language Survey and use the information as required in federal law with students currently enrolled by the beginning of the 2002-03 school term. The survey will become part of every student's permanent record folder until graduation.
Is half-day attendance for ELLs acceptable until an ESL teacher is hired?
No. Half-day attendance is not acceptable for any student in grades 1-12. The school's ESL program plan should have a procedure to begin instruction upon enrollment.
Does a school district/charter school need parental permission to provide ESL instruction?
No. ESL is a basic curriculum, not a supplemental service.
Should the school district provide the same instruction for all ELLs?
No. The amount of ESL time, the type of instruction, and the support for content learning is dependent on the student's English proficiency level and the level of mastery of the standards.
Is an aide eligible to direct instruction for ELLs?
Is a person hired as an aide who has an Instructional I or II certificate eligible to direct instruction for ELLs?
What type of assistance is an instructional aide eligible to provide?
The aide reinforces the teacher's instruction, guides practice on specific skills, and provides tutorial assistance when needed.
Is it necessary for the teacher to speak the student's language(s) in order to have students succeed in an ESL program?
No. English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction involves teaching listening, speaking, reading, and writing at appropriate developmental and proficiency levels with little or no use of the native language.
Can the ESL program be totally funded by Title I?
No. Title I is a supplemental program available to students who are identified as not progressing toward the standards in reading and/or mathematics. The basic ESL program must be provided first before the supplemental program can be used for instructional support.
Is an English language deficiency a reason for placement in special education?
No. ELLs may be eligible for special education services only when it has been determined that a disability exists that is not solely due to lack of instruction or proficiency in the English language.
Does ESL instruction end when special education services begin?
No. ESL instruction must continue for ELLs placed in special education. The ESL instruction can be discontinued when the student meets the exit criteria described in the school district/charter school ESL program plan.
Are ELLs eligible for career education (vocational-technical school)?
Yes. ELLs should have access to all educational program opportunities. Their level of English language proficiency does not determine program participation. In addition, ELLs may participate in all the federal and other programs available within the school for which they qualify.
Are there any program services that can replace the basic ESL curriculum?
No. ESL is a basic curriculum. Therefore, speech therapy and tutoring in language arts and content areas are support services and are not the same as teaching English as a second language.
How long will ELLs need an ESL program?
The length of time will depend on the student's English proficiency level. It is usually a five- to seven-year process in a program that meets student's needs. ELLs should be monitored for at least one year after exiting the ESL Program to ensure continued academic success.
How may students should be scheduled for each instructional period?
Class size is a local decision. Consideration should be given to the students' age range, their levels of English proficiency, and the teacher's ability to provide effective instruction during the period.
Can content area teachers refuse to have an ESL student in their classrooms?
No. ELLs must be instructed in the same content areas as other students in a school district. The instruction should be modified and adapted to meet the needs of ELLs.
How should the content area instruction be modified for ELLs?
All teachers must modify instruction to meet the needs of each student in reaching the proficient level of the academic standards. Emphasis on important vocabulary, multiple strategies to learn core concepts with less detail and simple sentence structures are examples of effective modifications in helping ELLs move toward mastery of the academic standards.
ELLs should have opportunities to demonstrate the proficient level of the standards through a variety of assessment strategies (e.g., portfolio, demonstrations, models, observation, paper and pencil tests). Testing an ELL with the same test as native speakers is inappropriate.
Should the grading system be adapted for ELLs?
ELLs should be graded on the modified objectives established at the beginning of the grading period. Giving the ELL a failing grade because he/she did not complete the same projects or course work as native speakers is inappropriate.
Can an ELL be retained due to lack of English proficiency?
No. An ELL needs differentiated instruction rather than retention.
Where can I get materials to teach English as a second language?
Major textbook publishers have texts and/or teacher reference materials for teaching English as a second language. Many have catalogs dedicated entirely to the subject. Sample Web sites include:
Source: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education, "A Guidebook for Planning Programs for English Language Learners, "
Adopted from Philipsburg Osceola School District Website ESL Program Specialist Greg Minarchick