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South Colonie Central School District News

New Regulations for English Language Learners (ELLs) in Effect This School Year

School districts across New York will be required to meet new regulations beginnng this school year related to students who are English Language Learners (ELLs).

The regulations will change practices in a number of areas, including identifying and placing ELLs in appropriate programs, providing support services to ELLs, communicating with parents and planning and reporting procedures. There also are new stipulations related to district personnel who work with ELLs, as well as new professional development requirements for teachers and administrators.


Currently, there are more than 230,000 ELLs enrolled in New York state’s public schools; these children speak more than 140 different languages. South Colonie enrolls approximately 100 ELL students who speak more than 20 different languages.

In June 2013, the graduation rate for ELLs in New York was only 31.4 percent, compared with 74.9 percent for all students. Of the ELLs who did graduate from high school, 5.9 percent were considered “college-ready.”

The new regulations, which were adopted by the Board of Regents in late 2014, were designed to close the achievement gap and strengthen educational opportunities for pupils who are not proficient in English. It’s important to note that the changes reflect shifts in federal laws and build on more than three years of study, public comment and federal review.

Highlights of the new regulations

The new ELL regulations require school districts in New York to:

  • Use a four-step process to identify ELLs, which includes administering a home language questionnaire, interviewing the incoming student, administering the state’s identification test for ELLs and determining if the student has a disability that would affect the student’s ability to become proficient in English.

  • Use only “qualified personnel” to identify students as ELLs. In general, qualified personnel are defined as bilingual or English as a New Language (ENL) teachers or teachers trained in cultural competency, language development and the needs of ELLs.

  • Place students in appropriate programs within 10 days of initiating the ELL identification process.

  • Offer a bilingual education program if there are 20 or more ELLs district-wide in the same grade level who speak the same language (this compares to the current regulations that only require bilingual programs if 20 or more ELLs are enrolled in one school). The new bilingual program cannot be located in a school that is designated by New York state as a focus school, a priority school or a school under registration review — all of which are considered to be schools that are not performing well (exceptions will be made for districts that don’t have multiple schools serving the same grades).

  • Offer two different types of bilingual programs depending on the students’ English language proficiency. Guidance from the New York State Education Department (SED) specifies how many minutes of stand-alone English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction districts must provide on a weekly basis to ELLs versus the required time for integrating ESL instruction into regular English Language Arts, math, science or social studies classes.

  • Offer ELL programs that include students from no more than two contiguous grades.

  • Provide “program continuity,” meaning if at least 15 ELLs who speak the same language were enrolled in an ELL program the previous school year, that program must continue to be offered.

  • Track the progress of ELL students and provide additional supports to those who are not demonstrating adequate progress.

  • Provide three different ways for a student to exit out of an ELL program. Previously, students had only one option.

  • Provide at least two years of designated academic support to students who exit out of the ELL status (one to two years is currently required).

  • Meet with ELL parents/guardians at least once a year to discuss students’ academic progress, English language proficiency test results and language development needs. This meeting must be in addition to regular parental meetings (such as parent-teacher conferences).

  • Provide parent notifications and communications in the language best understood by the ELL parent or guardian.

  • Provide appropriate accommodations to students with disabilities if it’s determined that a disability affects a pupil’s ability to become proficient in English.

  • Focus professional development on the needs of ELLs. Specifically, 15 percent of all required professional development hours for teachers and administrators must be related to language acquisition, including a focus on best practices for co-teaching strategies and integrating language and core content instruction for ELLs. For bilingual and ESL teachers, the ratio rises to 50 percent of training hours and the professional development must focus on language acquisition that aligns with core content area instruction, including a focus on co-teaching strategies, as well as best practices for integrating language and content instruction. Waivers may be permitted for districts whose ELL populations are less than 5 percent of total enrollments.

Districts also have many new ELL planning and reporting requirements under the new regulations.

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