7 English Learners

Chapter Revision date: Orginal 01/2016 - section 7.1 updated 02/06/2018 - 

Any student that lives in a home where a language other than English is spoken may be an English Learner.  English Learner status is established through the Home Language Survey and based on results of the annually administered California English Language Development Test (CELDT).  Eligibility of English Learners for special education services is determined using the same criteria as for other students.  When considering an English Learner for special education services, the team must find evidence that the student’s learning difficulties are not primarily related to extrinsic factors, including unfamiliarity with the English language, lack of appropriate instruction, environmental or economic disadvantage, cultural factors, temporary physical disabilities, or social maladjustment.  In addition, disabilities (e.g., Specific Learning Disability, Speech Language Impairment) must be determined as evidenced by the combination of abilities in each of the student’s languages. 

In general, students should be referred for special education assessment only after it is determined that a lack of academic progress does not appear to be due to linguistic, cultural or other environmental factors.  

note Students with disabilities who are required to take the CELDT can use state-approved variations, accommodations, or modification for testing as outlined in their IEPs or 504 Plans. State regulations provide that parents or guardians may not exempt their child from the CELDT.  

7.1       English Proficiency Levels


Students who are new to California public schools and whose Home Language Survey indicates a language other than English for questions 1, 2 and 4, must be assessed for English language proficiency using the Initial ELPAC within thirty calendar days of enrollment.  The Initial ELPAC is a shorter version of the ELPAC and is administered only once to measure how well a student speaks, reads, writes and understands English.  Depending on the results, a student will be identified as either an English learner (EL) or fluent English proficient (IFEP). Each English learner will be assigned an appropriate English language performance level based on the results of the Initial ELPAC assessment. English learners will then take the Summative ELPAC starting February 1st of each school year until they can be reclassified. The following descriptions outline the language behaviors in English learner should exhibit at each performance level.  Appropriate instruction should be designed for each performance level according to the age and grade of the student.

Please note that Initial ELPAC scores are reported differently than Summative ELPAC scores.  An Initial ELPAC score of Novice would correspond to the Summative ELPAC descriptors for “Minimally Developed” (Level 1).   An initial ELPAC score of Intermediate would correspond to the Summative ELPAC descriptors of “Somewhat Developed’ / “Moderately Developed” (Level 2 / Level 3).  An initial ELPAC designation of Initially Fluent English Proficient (IFEP) would most closely correspond to the Summative ELPAC descriptors of “Well Developed” (Level 4). 

Proficiency Level Descriptors for California English Language Development Standards

(from California ELD Standards, 2012) 




Overall Proficiency


English learners enter the Emerging level having limited receptive and productive English skills.  As they progress through the Emerging level, they start to respond to more varied communication tasks using learned words and phrases with increasing ease.



At exit from the Emerging level, students have basic English communication skills in social and academic contexts.


Students at the early stages of the Emerging level can engage in complex, cognitively demanding social and academic activities requiring language when provided substantial linguistic support; as they develop more familiarity and ease with understanding and using English, support may be moderate or light for familiar tasks or topics.

Overall Proficiency


As English learners progress through the Expanding level, they move from being able to refashion learned phrases and sentences in English to meet their immediate communication and learning needs towards being able to increasingly engage in using the English language in more complex, cognitively demanding situations.


At exit from the Expanding level, students can use English to learn and communicate about a range of topics and academic content areas.


Students at the early stages of the Expanding level can engage in complex, cognitively demanding social and academic activities requiring language when provided moderate linguistic support; as they develop increasing ease with understanding and using English in a variety of contexts, support may be light for familiar tasks or topics.

Overall Proficiency


As English learners progress through the Bridging level, they move from being able to communicate in ways appropriate to different tasks, purposes, and audiences in a variety of social and academic contexts towards being able to refine and enhance their English language competencies in a broader range of contexts.


At exit from the Bridging level, students can communicate effectively with various audiences on a wide range of familiar and new topics to meet academic demands in a variety of disciplines.


Students at the early stages of the Bridging level can engage in complex, cognitively demanding social and academic activities requiring language when provided light linguistic support; as they develop increasing ease with understanding and using highly technical English, support may not be necessary for familiar tasks or topics using everyday English.


Here are additional proficiency categories that are used: 

  • IFEP, Initially Fluent English Proficient, for English Learners assessed as fluent in English at enrollment.  Language other than English is indicated on Home Language Survey.
  • ILEP, Initially Limited English Proficient,for English Learners who have insufficient data to calculate a more specific English proficiency level.  (i.e., SEEC).  They can be assessed later when they acquire oral English skills.
  • NASP, Not (unable to be) Assessed/Special Education, for English Learners lacking any language skills that would permit assessment.  (i.e., ILS)  In addition, if the IEP team determines that a Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH) student should receive services only in the DHH program and not receive English Learner services, the current OPL and initial OPL will display NASP for the student.
  • TEST, Not Yet Assessed, for students who need to be assessed with CELDT.  Language other than English is listed on Home Language Survey. 
  • RFEP, Reclassified Fluent English Proficient, for students no longer identified as English Learners. 

Here are additional SDUSD English Learner Typologies that are used:

  • New Arrival with Adequate Schooling

o   An English learner who has recently arrived in the United States and has had adequate schooling (including literacy in L1).

  • New Arrival with Interrupted Formal Schooling

o   An English learner who has recently arrived in the United States and has had interrupted formal schooling (i.e., “underschooled” or “SIFE”).

  • Developing Normatively

o   An English learner who has been in the United States for 1-5 years and is making adequate progress in his/her English language development.

  • Long Term English Learners (AB 2193)

o   Enrolled in any of grades 6-12, inclusive

o   Enrolled in schools in the U.S. for more than 6 years

o   Remained at the same English language proficiency level for two or more consecutive years as determined by the English language development test

o   Scores Far Below Basic or Below Basic on the English language arts standardized based achievement test

  • At Risk of Becoming a Long Term English Learner (AB 2193)

o   Enrolled in any of grades 5-11, inclusive

o   Enrolled in schools in the U.S. for four years

o   scores at the intermediate level or below on the English language development test

o   scores in the fourth year at the below basic or far below basic level on the English language arts standards-based achievement test 

  • English Learner with a Disability

o   Any English learner, regardless of number of years in the United States, who has been identified for special education services.

A chart found on CDE website converts CELDT scores into a student’s Overall Proficiency Level (OPL).  Refer to Forms/Links. When considering a student’s OPL, it is advisable to note where the student falls within the range. 

7.1.1             Reclassification 

Reclassification is the process used by school districts to make a determination if students who have received the official designation of English Learner (EL) have acquired sufficient English skills to successfully access curriculum being delivered without English Language Development (ELD) support.  ELs are reclassified as fluent English proficient (RFEP) based on multiple criteria, including the ability to demonstrate English proficiency commensurate with English-speaking peers.  The reclassification process in public schools in California is a local decision based on guidelines adopted by the State Board of Education pursuant to the California Education Code. 

The English Learner Reclassification Profile: Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities (see (Forms/Links) defines an acceptable standard for the reclassification criteria designated by the state for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).  Students with disabilities are to be provided the same opportunities to be reclassified as students without disabilities, and can be reclassified using standard District reclassification procedures.  However, some students with disabilities may have a difficult time meeting the academic and language proficiency standards for reclassification set by the State and may require test variations, accommodations and/or modifications (See Matrix 1 from CDE (Forms/Links)In order to ensure validity, this reclassification profile incorporates information from multiple contexts, tools, and perspectives. Ultimately, the Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities will help IEP teams determine if an EL student with a disability should be reclassified as RFEP.  

In order to reclassify a student with a disability, IEP teams must demonstrate that the student has met the acceptable standard for ALL criteria listed in the Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities.  Site administrators and support teams are encouraged to determine how available resources will be used to complete this process.  Representatives from general and special education are needed to support, assess, provide descriptions of student functioning and make recommendations.  In order to allow for parent participation and IEP team judgment, it is recommended that the reclassification determination take place during the IEP process.  An IEP team’s determination is to be described in the Team Action page of the IEP and the completed English Learner Reclassification Profile should be submitted to the Office of Language Acquisition for review and final approval.  School sites should continue to address the student’s English language development needs until final notice of official reclassification status has been given to the site and parents. 

7.2       Special Education Assessment of English Learners

The student population within San Diego Unified School District is both linguistically and culturally diverse.  Therefore, prior to determining if a referral for special education is warranted, teams should begin to rule out relevant extrinsic factors (e.g., English language acquisition and/or acculturation factors) as the primary contributors to the student’s difficulties.  In making a determination of eligibility, the following information should be obtained (through cumulative file review, parent/guardian interview, teacher interview and observations):

  • Reason for referral
  • Parental concerns
  • Language(s) exposure and proficiency information
  • Educational history, including current and past instructional programs
  • Health, attendance, and developmental history
  • Response to interventions tried 

7.2.1             Comprehensive Evaluation Process for English Learners (CEP-EL) 

The Comprehensive Evaluation Process for English Learners (CEP-EL) tools (See Forms/Links) support English learners who are experiencing ongoing academic and/or behavioral difficulties.  The tools guide teams to systematically collect valid and relevant performance data across a variety of settings in order to make the best educational decisions for each student. 

Prior to a referral to special education, the following CEP-EL tools are referenced and completed: 

English Learner Flowchart

The English Learner Initial Referral and Decision Making Process flowchart has been created to guide site teams in step-by-step decision making process and focuses problem-solving teams on systematically ruling out extrinsic factors as primary contributors to student difficulties. 

Student Cumulative File Check

The Cumulative File Check contains data gathered by staff members of the background information found within a student’s cumulative file.  When there is a concern discovered in the cumulative file or a need for more information, the Cumulative File Check identifies appropriate site support staff to contact for consultation and/or collaboration. 

Extrinsic Factors 

English learners frequently have a wide variety of extrinsic factors impacting their lives and their participation and progress in the U.S. educational system.  Factors that are specific to ELs are the differences they experience in their environment, such as culture, language, and exposure to academics.  These differences must be examined at an individual level, given specifically family, regional, and other intra- and inter-cultural influences.  A list of extrinsic factors that may be impacting student learning include: 

Physical and Psychological Factors:

  • Health/wellness, self-esteem, and life experiences

Personal and Cultural Factors:

  • Mobility, cultural interactions, and family circumstances

Language Development Factors:

  • Proficiency, contexts of use, and instructional strategies

Previous and Current Learning Environment Factors:

  • Educational history, opportunities to learn, and gaps in instruction 

Intervention Summary 

The English Learner Intervention Summary documents interventions tried and their outcomes over time.  It divides concerns that may be impacting learning into three areas: extrinsic factors, academic concerns, and behavioral concerns.  In addition, the English Learner Intervention Summary provides space for noting student strengths and lists effective practices for English learners that may assist teams in guiding instruction and selecting interventions. 

After a referral to special education is accepted, the CEP-EL checklist is completed. 

Comprehensive Evaluation Process for English Learners (CEP-EL) Checklist 

  • Certifies that newly identified or re-evaluated English learners have been provided a comprehensive evaluation upon identification for special education services.
  • Required when considering English learners within any special education disability category.
  • Documents use of best practices for English learners throughout the evaluation process (from pre-referral to IEP development).
  • Not a certification of disability.
  • May be reviewed for compliance. 

7.2.2             Language of Assessment

Once English language acquisition and/or acculturation factors are no longer suspected as the primary basis of the learning problem, a determination must be made about the language in which the student will be assessed.  Assessments should always consider and account for all languages to which the student has been exposed regardless of the language of instruction or the student’s verbal ability.  Assessors should accumulate evidence acquired through interviews, student observation, and review of background information in order to support their determination of the language(s) most likely to yield accurate information on what the student knows and can do.

note Nonverbal assessments alone are not acceptable for students who are able to speak. 

When evaluating English Learners, the assessment team must include a qualified (credentialed/certificated) person with language competence in oral and written skills in the child’s primary language. This person should have an understanding of the student’s cultural and ethnic background and about the process of second language acquisition.  If it clearly is not feasible to include a team member with such language competence, an interpreter must be used. If an interpreter is required, assessors should use district resources (Forms/Links).  When an interpreter is used, the assessment report needs to document this and note if the validity may have been affected.

Additional assistance in determining the language of assessment and/or in completing dual language evaluations is available through the BSN (Bilingual Support Network) (Forms/Links).  , which is a team of bilingual School Psychologists, Speech-Language Pathologists and Education Specialists who assist special education staff regarding issues related to culture and language acquisition. 

7.2.3             Assessment Materials 

Testing and assessment materials and procedures to be used for the purposes of assessment and placement of English Learners with exceptional needs must be selected and administered so as not to be racially, culturally, or sexually discriminatory [30 EC 56320(a)].  The assessor(s) must ensure that culturally and linguistically appropriate tests and materials are provided and administered in the student’s primary language or in the language and form most likely to yield accurate information on what the student can do academically, developmentally, and functionally [30 EC 56320(b)(1)].  Thorough evaluation procedures should always include a review of classroom performance over time and describe the student’s achievement and needs. Educators should gather data in naturally occurring contexts (e.g., classroom instruction, social environments) and focus on patterns that exist in the data. In order for data to be valid and meaningful, examiners collect data from multiple tasks and in different contexts over a period of time. All results should be carefully interpreted with consideration of cultural and linguistic status.

When determining the appropriateness of all assessment materials, including standardized tests, the following factors must be considered for evaluation of culturally and linguistically diverse students: 

  • How representative are the assessment materials:

Do the assessment materials fairly represent the language, development, and culture of the student?

  • Design of materials:

Were the testing materials based on research conducted with the student’s population (e.g. demographic, cultural, linguistic)?

  • Limitations of materials:

Do the materials fairly assess the student’s abilities?

  • Student's exposure to instruction:

Are the testing materials appropriate based on the student’s instructional experience?

note Assessment materials not meeting the above criteria may yield invalid results due to the effects of test bias. 

7.2.4             EL Assessment Guidelines 

Guiding principles for assessment of English Language Learners for Special Education services should include:

  • Adequate understanding of a student’s cultural and linguistic background
  • The use of multiple sources of data
  • Appropriate use of interpreters
  • Appropriate interpretation of standardized test results
  • Use a transdisciplinary model of multiple perspectives in data interpretation
  • Review student’s growth rate in response to interventions over time

7.2.5             IEP Development 

The IEP team must consider the student’s English proficiency level (Ex: CELDT) in developing the IEP.  The IEP team must take any action necessary to ensure that the parent or guardian understands and participates in the proceedings at an IEP team meeting, including arranging for an interpreter for parents or guardians with deafness or whose native language is a language other than English.  The interpreter’s signature must be on the IEP and the interpreter may not be a participating member of the team.  The interpreter's role is only to interpret.  A translated copy of the IEP documents including a summary of assessment report(s) must be offered to the parent.

7.2.6             Goal Development 

All IEP goals for English learners must be linguistically and culturally appropriate.  The following guidelines should be considered for each goal and objective to ensure that it meets the definition of being culturally and linguistically appropriate: 

  • The goal is appropriate to the student’s level of linguistic development (refer to ELD standards) and proficiency in the language of instruction
  • The goal allows for differences in cultural practices     

7.2.7             Special Documentation for ELs 

The Comprehensive Evaluation Process for English Learners (CEP-EL) Checklist is used when conducting initial evaluations and re-evaluations for special education services (not annual or supplemental IEPs). 

  1. On the Assessment Report section in the box under “Language in Which the Assessment was Conducted if Other Than the Student’s Primary Language” the following information should be included:  
  • Student’s CELDT level
  •  IPT score (if available) or home language proficiency information
  • Rationale for why the language of assessment was chosen as the language(s) able to yield most accurate results. 

      Example: ________ is an English Learner, CELDT OPL Intermediate; IPT Limited Spanish Speaker.  As a result, the assessment was conducted in English and Spanish.  

  1. In Present Levels of Performance sectionof each IEP: 
  • Identify the student as an English Learner
  • Specify how the student’s English Proficiency will be addressed.  Explain how the student’s English Proficiency will be addressed and not the student’s most current CELDT level in the corresponding box
  • Identify the language proficiency assessment instrument(s) used and interpret the results (CELDT, Spanish IPT or, for other languages, San Diego Observation Assessment Instrument, etc.)
  • Use the assessment results to indicate the student's instructional program (Structured English Immersion, Mainstream English Cluster, Dual-Language Programs, New Arrival Center)
  • Identify who will provide the ELD instruction

 note The IEP Team determines placement of each special education student, regardless of language proficiency.  


 Contact Information:

Bilingual Support Network  Email bsn@sandi.net with your request.  A time will be set up for a telephone consultation.

(858) 573-5926 or (858) 627-7508


Wiggin Center – B2