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Toward a “Common Definition of English Learner”: Guidance for States and State Assessment Consortia in Defining and Addressing Policy and Technical Issues and Options

States participating in the four federally-funded assessment consortia are required to establish a "common definition of English Learner." This includes the two Race to the Top academic assessment consortia and the two Enhanced Assessment Grant English language proficiency (ELP) assessment consortia. This paper provides guidance that consortium member states can use to move toward establishing a common English learner definition in ways that are theoretically-sound, evidence-based, pragmatic, and sensitive to the many policy, technical, and legal issues.

Specifically, the paper briefly outlines central issues, and discusses policy and technical options, for defining English learners using a four-stage framework of key criteria and processes to:

  • Identify a student as a potential English learner;
  • Classify (confirm/disconfirm) a student as an English learner;
  • Establish an "English-language proficient" performance standard on the state/consortium ELP test against which to assess ELs' English-language proficiency; and
  • Reclassify a student to former-EL status through the use of multiple exit criteria. 


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