Public Education:

Meeting the Needs of Students With Limited English Proficiency

GAO-01-226: Published: Feb 23, 2001. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 2001.

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Marlene S. Shaul
(202) 512-6778


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Experts disagree about the best methods to teach student who speak little English. Even though different approaches to English language instruction may be effective, many variables may influence a given school's program choices. Moreover, there is no clear time line for acquiring English proficiency. Local decisions about the amount of time needed to attain proficiency and the amount of language support that should be provided may differ. Of the two main instructional approaches, English-based instruction is more common than instruction in a student's native language. Most students spent four or less years in these programs. School districts are required to ensure that English-language instruction is adequate and to provide these children with equal educational opportunities. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has adopted procedural requirements for criteria for judging the adequacy of local English-language instruction programs in meeting those needs. In three policy documents, OCR set forth requirements that school districts must meet to pass a three-pronged test established by the courts. When the adequacy of local English-language instruction programs is questioned, OCR investigates and, if problems are found, enters into agreement with the district specifying how the district will address the issues.

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