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English Learners (EL)


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In general terms, an English learner (EL) is a student who is in the process of acquiring English proficiency and has a first language other than English or in addition to English. The EL status remains with the student until s/he shows English proficiency enabling the student to:

  • Listen, speak, read, and write in English
  • Be successful in the classroom setting where there is language instruction
  • Be able to actively participate in his/her classroom, school, community, and beyond

ELs are among the fastest-growing populations in our schools. ELs comprise about 10 percent of the student population nationwide, and Iowa, at over six percent, is catching up.

All Iowa districts need to be prepared to serve ELs, including immigrant children and youth. All are required by law to have a Lau Plan in place. This is a requirement regardless of EL enrollment. (See Lau Plan Requirement for ALL districts below).

ELs are a widely heterogeneous group who bring a depth of linguistic and cultural assets to the schools in which they are enrolled. In spite of these assets, ELs continue to experience significant gaps in both achievement and in the opportunities in our schools compared to their non-EL peers. ELs are underrepresented in gifted and talented programming, extracurricular activities, and high-level courses. ELs are often over (or under) identified in special education. With effective research-based supports and access to excellent educators, ELs are capable of the same high level of learning as native English speakers.

Standardized Entrance and Exit Procedures for Iowa's English Learners - The purpose of this document is to ensure standardized procedures for the entrance and exit of English learners in the state of Iowa. It is crucial that every district understand and adhere to these procedures.

Educating ELs

Each district is fully responsible for ensuring that their ELs not only gain English proficiency but also meet the same high academic standards expected of all students. Reach out to your district's AEA EL consultant or district’s EL administrator for guidance in building effective language instruction educational programs for ELs. Additionally, below are some excellent and comprehensive resources for supporting English Learners and their families.

English Learner Tool Kit - A 161-page document from the Office of English Language Acquisition outlining legal obligations for ELs. The toolkit helps state and local education agencies help ELs by fulfilling these obligations.

Toolkit links by topic:

When English Learners Become Proficient

Students are now exited (reclassified) and move to non-EL status upon testing proficient on the English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA21). ELPA21 proficient students may not be kept in EL status. This is new under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), effective in spring 2019. The ELPA21 addresses personal, social, and academic language use and needs. Note any ongoing literacy needs upon reclassification, as all students who exhibit literacy needs can expect local supports; typically, in Iowa, this is provided through a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework regardless of categorization, label, or status.

Each district’s data entry person must ensure that exited (reclassified) students are coded appropriately as a 4 and moved into monitoring status to ensure that unwarranted weighted funding is not given. Collecting funds for non-ELs is illegal. For information about monitoring, contact your AEA EL consultant.

Re-entry FAQs for English Learners

Title III - English Learners Resources

Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students

Title III - English Learners is a supplemental grant under the ESEA and updated by ESSA. Title III - English Learners is officially known as the Language Instruction for English Learner and Immigrant Students Act. The overarching purpose is to ensure that EL students, including immigrant children and youth, attain English language proficiency and meet the same challenging state academic standards that other students are expected to meet.

Lau Plan Requirement

All school districts, regardless of English learner enrollment, must have a Lau Plan. (This is required by the Office of Civil Rights and Iowa Code 216.9.

Grant Requirements

The U.S. Department of Education determines the grant award to the states by using a formula based on the number of EL and immigrant students enrolled in the state. Ninety-five percent of the apportionment will be allocated as subgrants to eligible subgrantees serving EL and immigrant students. (Title III, Section 3111(a), (b)(1))

Each fiscal year, all applicants must re-apply and have an approved plan for funds allocated for that fiscal year and meet evaluation and reporting requirements. (Title III, Sections 3114(a), 3115(a), 3121(a)(b).)

Subgrantees must use Title III funds to supplement state language instruction educational programs, designed to assist EL students’ achievement goals. The state educational agency (SEA), AEAs, LEAs, and schools are accountable for increasing the English proficiency and core academic content knowledge of EL students.

Schools and districts are required to assist EL students to meet the same state academic standards that all children are expected to meet and implement measures of English language proficiency. (Title III, Sections 3102(2), 3115(a))

Supplement, Not Supplant

Title III funds must only be used to provide additional services, staff, programs, or materials that are not provided with State or local resources absent federal funds; federal funds cannot pay for resources that would otherwise be purchased with State and/or local funds.

Required Activities 3115(c)

An eligible entity receiving funds under 3114(a) shall use the funds–

  1. to increase the English language proficiency of English learners by providing effective language instruction educational programs that meet the needs of English learners and demonstrate success in increasing–
    1. English language proficiency; and
    2. student academic achievement;
  2. to provide effective professional development to classroom teachers (including teachers in classroom settings that are not the settings of language instruction educational programs), principals and other school leaders, administrators and other school or community-based organizational personnel, that is–
    1. designed to improve the instruction and assessment of English learners;
    2. designed to enhance the ability of such teachers, principals, and other school leaders to understand and implement curricula, assessment practices and measures, and instructional strategies for English learners;
    3. effective in increasing children’s English language proficiency or substantially increasing he subject matter knowledge, teaching knowledge, and teaching skills of such teachers; and
    4. of sufficient intensity and duration to have a positive and lasting impact on the teacher’s performance in the classroom; and
  3. to provide and implement other effective activities and strategies that enhance or supplement language instruction educational programs for English learners, which–
    1. shall include parent, family, and community engagement activities; and
    2. may include strategies that serve to coordinate and align related programs.

Authorized Activities 3115(d)

Subject to the Required Activities, a sub-grantee may use the funds to achieve any of the Purposes described above by undertaking 1 or more of the following activities:

  1. Upgrading program objectives and effective instructional strategies.
  2. Improving the instructional program for English learners by identifying, acquiring, and upgrading curricula, instructional materials, educational software, and assessment procedures.
  3. Providing to English learners–
    1. tutorials and academic or career and technical education; and
    2. intensified instruction, which may include materials in a language that the student can understand, interpreters, and translators.
  4. Developing and implementing effective preschool, elementary school, or secondary school language instruction educational programs that are coordinated with other relevant programs and services.
  5. Improving the English language proficiency and academic achievement of English learners.
  6. Providing community participation programs, family literacy services, and parent and family outreach and training activities to English learners and their families–
    1. to improve the English language skills of English learners; and
    2. to assist parents and families in helping their children to improve their academic achievement and becoming active participants in the education of their children.
  7. Improving the instruction of English learners, which may include English learners with disability, by providing for–
    1. the acquisition or development of educational technology or instructional materials;
    2. access to, and participation in, electronic networks for materials, training, and communication; and
    3. incorporation of the resources described above into curricula and programs.
  8. Offering early college high school or dual or concurrent enrollment programs or courses designed to help English learners achieve success in postsecondary education.
  9. Carrying out other activities that are consistent with the Purposes of Title III.

Entrance and Exit Criteria for ELs

Title III, Section 3113(b)(2) requires states to establish standardized statewide entrance and exit procedures.

All students who may be ELs (as indicated by the Home Language Survey-IA Version; Available on TransAct) must be assessed for such status within 30 days of enrollment in a school.

  1. All districts must ascertain the native language of each student upon enrollment. This is done through the Home Language Survey-IA Version; Available on TransAct) and is conducted once (not each year).
  2. When the HLS indicates a language other than English in the home, screening results must be obtained from previous Iowa district or ELPA21 state. If neither of those are available, the student must be screened using the ELPA21 Dynamic Screener. Students must be assessed for such status within 30 days of enrollment in a school.
  3. If the student is not proficient with English, placement in language instruction educational program based on needs(results of the Dynamic Screener) is required.
  4. All ELs shall be assessed annually using the ELPA21 is required. Even students on a parent waiver from EL services will be assessed using the ELPA21 each year until they perform proficient. Students on a parent waiver from EL services are also required to be assessed each year using the ELPA21.
  5. Students whose ELPA21 scores indicate proficiency are exited from EL services and enter a two-year monitoring cycle.
  6. Students who do not score proficient on the ELPA21 continue to receive EL services based on their current needs.

Note: Parents may waive services, but students remain ELs unless deemed proficient based on ELPA21 scores. All ELs are assessed as described above. This waiver must be signed annually. Regardless of parent waiver, the district remains responsible for every student’s language and academic success.

Title IIIA English Learner Grant Eligibility Business Rules

Title III - Immigrant Students Resources

Title III - Immigrant Students is a grant program designed to support school districts that have experienced a significant increase in immigrant student enrollment over the previous two years. The grant provides enhanced instructional and supplemental support opportunities for immigrant students and their families. Immigrant students are defined as those who (1) are 3 through 21 years of age, (2) were not born in the U.S. or any U.S. Territory, and (3) have not attended U.S. schools for more than three full academic years.

Before determining Title III Part A allocations, the Iowa Department of Education (Department) reserves 5% of its Title III allocation for the Title III - Immigrant Students grant program. The Department determines which districts will be awarded these funds based on a “significant increase” in immigrant student enrollment over the previous two years as reported in SRI.

Immigrant Students Funds Plan

School districts that receive Title III - Immigrant Students grant funds are required to submit a narrative describing how they propose to serve immigrant children and youth and their families for the school year in which they receive an allocation. The narrative must align to a budget that is also submitted annually.

Timeline for Expenditures

School districts have one year in which to utilize allocated Title III - Immigrant Students grant funds. Grant funds are not intended to be carried over from year to year; they should be spent within the given timeline.

Supplement, Not Supplant

Title III - Immigrant Students grant fund must only be used to provide additional services, staff, programs or materials that are not provided with State or local resources absent federal funds; federal funds cannot pay for resources that would otherwise be purchased with State and/or local funds.

Authorized Activities 3115(e)

For Immigrant Education grantees experiencing substantial increases in immigrant children and youth shall use funds to pay for activities that provide enhanced instructional opportunities which may include–

  1. family literacy, parent and family outreach, and training activities designed to assist parents and families to become active participants in the education of their children;
  2. recruitment of, a support for, personnel, including teachers and paraprofessionals who have been specifically trained, or are being trained, to provide services to immigrant children and youth;
  3. provision of tutorials, mentoring, and academic or career counseling for immigrant children and youth;
  4. identification, development, and acquisition of curricular materials, educational software, and technologies to be used in the program carried out with awarded funds;
  5. basic instructional services that are directly attributed to the presence of immigrant children and youth in the local educational agency involved, including the payment of costs of providing additional classroom supplies, costs of transportation, or such other cost as are directly attributable to such additional basic instructional services;
  6. other instructional services that are designed to assist immigrant children and youth to achieve in elementary school and secondary schools in the United States, such as program of introduction to the educational system and civics education; and
  7. activities, coordinated with community-based organizations, institutions of higher education, private sector entities, or other entities with expertise in working with immigrants, to assist parents and families of immigrant children and youth by offering comprehensive community services.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring of federal programs is conducted to ensure that: (1) every child has a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education; (2) programs comply with federal requirements that are most closely related to positive outcomes for students; and (3) taxpayer dollars are administered and used in accordance with how Congress and the United States Department of Education intended.​

ELP Standards and Assessments

English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards

The ELPA21 Summative Assessment is the growth measure used to assess English language proficiency. This assessment is tightly aligned to the Iowa English Language Proficiency Standards and corresponds to the Iowa’s academic standards for English/Language Arts. Placement decisions are made using the ELPA21 Screener (beginning August 1, 2018).


ELPA21 stands for English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century and is an assessment system that provides information regarding student proficiency of the English language overall, as well as in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and comprehension. The ELPA21 assessment system includes a summative measure of English language proficiency, a placement screener, and professional learning modules supporting a deeper understanding of Iowa’s ELP Standards.

English Learner Resources


AEA EL Websites

National Websites

Center of Applied Linguistic

Colorín Colorado

Council of Chief State School Officers

National Association of Bilingual Education

Office of Civil Rights - U.S. Department of Education

Office of English Language Acquisition - U.S. Department of Education


Understanding Language - Stanford University