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English language learners

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Students who are English language learners (ELL) participate in appropriate programs of language assistance, such as English as a Second Language, High Intensity Language Training, and bilingual education, to help ensure that they attain English proficiency, develop high levels of academic attainment in English, and meet the same academic content and academic achievement standards that all students are expected to meet. Participation in these types of programs can improve students’ English language proficiency which, in turn, has been associated with improved educational outcomes.

The percentage of public school students in the United States who were English language learners was higher in school year 2013–14 (9.3 percent, or an estimated 4.5 million students) than in 2003–04 (8.8 percent, or an estimated 4.2 million students) and 2012–13 (9.2 percent, or an estimated 4.4 million students).

In 2013–14, five of the six states with the highest percentages of ELL students in their public schools were in the West. In the District of Columbia and six states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas—10.0 percent or more of public school students were English language learners, with California having the highest percentage, at 22.7 percent. Seventeen states had percentages of ELL public school enrollment between 6.0 and 9.9 percent. These states were Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington. In 13 states, the percentage of ELL students in public schools was between 3.0 and 5.9 percent; this percentage was less than 3.0 percent in 14 states, with West Virginia having the lowest percentage, at 0.7 percent.

The percentage of ELL students in public schools increased between 2003–04 and 2013–14 in all but 14 states, with the largest percentage-point increase occurring in Kansas (4.6 percentage points) and the largest percentage-point decrease occurring in Arizona (9.8 percentage points). Between 2012–13 and 2013–14, the percentage of ELL students in public schools decreased in 20 states, with the largest decrease occurring in Idaho (1.4 percentage points). In contrast, 30 states and the District of Columbia experienced an increase in the percentage of ELL students, with the largest increase occurring in Kansas (0.6 percentage points).

In 2013–14, the percentage of students in ELL programs was generally higher for school districts in more urbanized areas than for those in less urbanized areas. For example, ELL students in cities made up an average of 14.1 percent of total public school enrollment, ranging from 9.6 percent in small cities to 16.6 percent in large cities. In suburban areas, ELL students constituted an average of 8.7 percent of public school enrollment, ranging from 6.0 percent in midsize suburban areas to 9.0 percent in large suburban areas. Towns and rural areas are subdivided into fringe, distant, and remote areas according to their proximity to urban centers, with fringe being the closest to an urban center and remote being the farthest from one. In towns, ELL students made up an average of 6.1 percent of public school enrollment, ranging from 6.0 percent in fringe and distant areas to 6.2 percent in remote areas. In rural areas, ELL students made up an average of 3.5 percent of public student enrollment, ranging from 2.2 percent in distant areas to 4.5 percent in fringe areas.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). The Condition of Education 2016 (NCES 2016-144), English Language Learners in Public Schools.

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