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50-State Comparison: English Learner Policies

The population of English learners (ELs) in K-12 schools continues to grow. Between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 school years, the percentage of English learners increased in over half of the states, and in 2017, English learners made up 10.1% of the total student population. Research suggests that in their transition to English, non-native speakers fall behind academically, which can intensify the longer a student remains in an English learner program. State education leaders are mindful of this and have implemented policies to identify, serve and reclassify English learners as they become proficient.

This resource provides a national comparison of EL policies in all states. Unless otherwise noted, all information in this resource was gathered from state statutes or regulations and does not include policies in state-level guidance documents or arising from court orders.

Click on the metrics below for 50-State Comparisons showing how all states approach these policies. Or view a specific state’s approach by going to the individual state profiles page.

Key Takeaways

  • To identify English learners, at least 21 states require the administration of a home language survey, while at least 27 states require the use of an English language proficiency screening assessment for students whose primary or home language is not English.
  • At least 28 states provide for specific qualifications or pre-service and in-service training and professional development for general classroom teachers in statute or regulation.
  • At least 39 states provide for training, professional development, teaching standards, certification or endorsements for EL-specific teachers in statute or regulation.
  • At least 24 states explicitly require students to score proficiently on an English language proficiency exam to be reclassified as English proficient.
  • Some states consider additional metrics, including academic performance, statewide assessments, and teacher observations and recommendations.

50-State Comparisons

Click on the items below to see data for all states


1. State resource page for English learners

2. Percentage and number of English learners


3. How is “English learner” defined in state policy?

4. How does the state identify English learners?

Serving English Learners

5. Which program approaches does state policy authorize?

6. Is parent membership required on EL advisory councils or committees?

7. Can state-funded pre-K programs provide DLL/EL instruction?

8. What EL training or ongoing professional development is required of general classroom teachers?

9. Are EL-only instructors in K-12 required to hold a specialist certification or endorsement?


10. What is the process for EL reclassification?

11. What measures do schools use to reclassify students as “English proficient”?

12. How do states monitor former English learners?

All data points for all states.

Related Resources

50-State Comparison: K-12 and Special Education Funding

How States Allocate Funding for English Language Learners (blog post)

Dear Colleague Letter: English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents


May 27, 2020

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