Family Resources

Identification, Eligibility and Programs for English Language Learners

Frequently Asked Questions


What is an English Language Learner?

An English Language Learner, or ELL, is a student whose native language is not English and needs support learning English.

How does a school determine if my child is an ELL?

All parents and guardians of newly enrolled students are required to complete a Home Language Identification Survey that lets the school staff know what language your child speaks at home. If the survey indicates your child uses a language other than English, he or she may be given the New York State Identification Test for English Language Learners. This test measures your child’s knowledge of English and determines if he or she needs support programs and services. If the test shows that your child needs support learning English, he or she is identified as an English Language Learner.

What kinds of programs and services are available to my child?

The New York City Department of Education offers three programs to English Language Learners: Dual Language, Transitional Bilingual Education, and English as a New Language.

What are the differences between these programs?

In Dual Language programs, students are taught in two languages: English and their home language, such as Spanish, Chinese, or French, among others. The goal of this program is for students to be able to read, write, and speak in both English and their home language. In Dual Language classes, the home language and English are used equally.

Transitional Bilingual Education programs provide reading, writing, and other classes in English and in your child’s home language. As students’ English improves, time spent learning in English increases and time spent learning in the home language decreases. Once your child is no longer identified as an English Language Learner, he or she will exit the program.

English as a New Language programs, which used to be called English as a Second Language or ESL, provide instruction in English with support in the students’ home language so that they can learn to read, write, and speak English. Students in this program can come from many different language backgrounds, and English may be the only common language among them.

What are the benefits of these programs?

There are many benefits to English Language Learner programs:

  • Students are able to use their home language to learn English.
  • Students learn to appreciate different cultures.
  • Students who speak two or more languages are valuable to future employers and have an easier time finding jobs.

Can I choose which program to enroll my child in?

Yes. As a parent or guardian of an English Language Learner, you have the right to choose which program you want for your child. Once you select the right program for your child, he or she must be placed in the program of your choice within 10 days of enrollment.

What if the school does not offer the program I want?

If your selected program is not available at your child’s current school, the school will offer you the following two options:

Option 1: You may keep your child enrolled at the current school in a different English Language Learner program. If you choose this option, the school will immediately place your child in that program.

Option 2: You may transfer your child to a school that offers the program you’re interested in. Your current school will work with the Department of Education on your child’s transfer. In the meantime, your child will temporarily be placed in an English Learner program at the current school until the transfer is complete.

How will I know how well my child is performing in a program?

Your child's school will hold parent-teacher conferences and annual ELL parent meetings to let you know how your child is performing in school. In addition, each spring your child will be given the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test. This test measures your child’s progress in learning English. It is given to all English Language Learners enrolled in grades K-12 in New York State schools. The results allow students, teachers, and parents to understand each student’s strengths and areas that need improvement, such as speaking, reading, and writing. The results of this test are also used to determine if your child will continue to be identified as an English Language Learner in the next school year.