Dual- and English-Language Learners

Matt Weyer 1/2/2018


Latina student graduatingDual- and English-language learners are becoming an increasingly important group of students for policymakers to acknowledge. Their growing numbers combined with generally low achievement patterns presents numerous challenges yet opportunities for reform. By understanding relevant research, practices and policy options, policymakers can become keenly aware of how to improve academic outcomes for these students. 

Dual Language Learners

Dual language learners (DLLs) are children under the age of five who have at least one parent or guardian who speaks a language other than English at home and are mastering their native language proficiency while learning English simultaneously. There are 11 million DLLs in the United States, comprising 32 percent of the nation's birth to age 8 population. The vast majority of American DLLs speak Spanish as their native language, although there is significant diversity in their abilities

English Language Learners

English language learners (ELLs) are generally older, non-native English speakers who have gained proficiency in their native language and are now learning English in addition to mastering academic content. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this group comprises 16.7 percent of public school enrollment in large cities and estimates from the American Educator expect this group to grow to 40 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. However, a substantial achievement gap has existed between ELLs and non-ELL white students for years. The education of ELLs could be effectively addressed through aligning more closely with educational research. 

2018 Policy Options

Educational research addressing DLLs and ELLs covers a variety of topics including accommodations, accountability, assessment, curriculum, funding, identification and reclassification, instructional strategies, teacher preparation, among various others. States have been actively introducing legislation that is linked to research on these populations.

  • California Senate Bill 463 (Failed): Deletes a provision requiring the Department of Education to establish procedures for the reclassification of a pupil from English learner to English proficient. Requires a local educational agency that has one or more pupils who are English learners to determine whether to reclassify a pupil as English proficient according to specified factors. Requires a determination concerning minimum scores on specified assessments for such reclassification.
  • Idaho Senate Bill 1350 (Enacted): Requires the superintendent of public instruction to distribute $450,000 for a competitive grant program to assist school districts in which the population of ELLs must meet annual measurable achievement objectives in math and reading, as defined by federal law.
  • Iowa Senate Bill 6 (Failed): Raises the additional funding weight for ELLs from .22 to .30. The additional weighting may be included for a period not exceeding six years.
  • New York Assembly Bill 1317 (Pending): Establishes the Education Equity Act which provides language assistance to parents or guardians who have children enrolled in public school and whose primary language is not English; defines terms; creates an annual language assistance plan to assess language needs in the district; requires the department of education to establish web pages detailing the rights of parents to translation services in each covered language.
  • Oklahoma Senate Bill 515 (Failed): Establishes benchmarks to measure proficiency among students in an ELL program.
  • Washington House Bill 1445 (Enacted): Implements dual language programs in early education.

Accountability and Assessment

One of the main accountability policies affecting dual and English language learners' school performance is whether to include these students in state standardized assessments in English, especially when their English skills are lacking, which could lead to an inaccurate measure of the students' true abilities (shared in both their native and second languages) and have a negative effect on school performance frameworks. To deal with this, many states are crafting policies in two areas: exemptions from standardized testing and native language testing. These policies allow for DLLs and ELLs to exhibit their true cognitive ability and provide a more accurate measure of the school's ability in educating these children.

Committee and Task Force Development

State legislatures have been active in creating committees, pilot programs and task forces to study the best practices and outcomes for dual- and English-language learners. Recommendations from such committees and task forces are then generally introduced as legislation during subsequent sessions.


Several states have crafted legislation aimed at increasing funding for the support of DLL and ELL students' education. Specifically, bills address the formation of grants to spur innovative practices, the creation and/or adjustment of funding formulas to provide additional allocations to DLLs and ELLs and the creation of task forces or councils to research best practices and modify accountability reports.

Teacher Certification and Professional Development

With the increasing number of DLLs and ELLs in this country, states are aligning teacher preparation standards to match this growing need. Numerous states have developed policies aimed at initiating a credentialing process and improving the transparency and requirements of teacher preparation, specific to serving DLLs and ELLs. 


2013-2018 Dual- and English-Language Learner Comprehensive Legislation (Introduced and Enacted) 

 Additional Resources

NCSL Reports and Resources

Other Resources