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English learners

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Students who are identified as English learners (ELs) can participate in language assistance programs to help ensure that they attain English proficiency and meet the academic content and achievement standards expected of all students. Participation in these types of programs can improve students’ English language proficiency, which in turn has been associated with improved educational outcomes.1 The percentage of public school students2 in the United States who were ELs increased between fall 2010 (9.2 percent, or 4.5 million students) and fall 2019 (10.4 percent, or 5.1 million students).3

Percentage of public school students who were English learners (ELs), by state and categorized into specific ranges: Fall 2019

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

NOTE: U.S. average is for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Categorizations are based on unrounded percentages.

In fall 2019, the percentage of public school students who were ELs was 10.0 percent or more in 12 states—half of which were located in the West—and the District of Columbia.4 The states were Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington. Texas reported the highest percentage of ELs among its public school students (19.6 percent), followed by California (18.6 percent) and New Mexico (16.5 percent). An additional 22 states identified between 6.0 and 10.0 percent of their students as ELs and 10 states identified between 3.0 and 6.0 percent of their students as ELs. In contrast, the percentage of students who were ELs was less than 3.0 percent in 6 states: Wyoming (2.9 percent), New Hampshire (2.8 percent), Mississippi (2.5 percent), Montana (2.4 percent), Vermont (2.2 percent), and West Virginia (0.8 percent).

In fall 2019, the percentage of students who were ELs was higher for school districts in more urbanized locales than for those in less urbanized locales. EL students constituted an average of 14.8 percent of total public school enrollment in cities, 10.0 percent in suburban areas, 7.0 percent in towns, and 4.4 percent in rural areas.

In general, a higher percentage of public school students in lower grades than of those in upper grades were EL students in fall 2019. For example, 15.0 percent of kindergarteners were EL students, compared with 9.6 percent of 6th-graders and 7.7 percent of 8th-graders. Among 12th-graders, only 5.5 percent of students were ELs. This pattern was driven, in part, by students who are identified as ELs when they enter elementary school but obtain English language proficiency before reaching the upper grades.5

Spanish was the home language of 3.9 million EL public school students in fall 2019, representing 75.7 percent of all EL students and 7.9 percent of all public school students. Arabic was the second most commonly reported home language (spoken by 131,600 students). English was the third most common home language for EL students (105,300 students), which may reflect students who live in multilingual households or students adopted from other countries who were raised speaking another language but currently live in households where English is spoken. Chinese (100,100 students), Vietnamese (75,600 students), Portuguese (44,800 students), Russian (39,700 students), Haitian (31,500 students), Hmong (30,800 students), and Korean (25,800 students) were the next most commonly reported home languages of EL students in fall 2019.

1 Genesee, F., Lindholm-Leary, K., Saunders, W., and Christian, D. (2005). English Language Learners in U.S. Schools: An Overview of Research Findings. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 10 (4): 363–385. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from

2 Includes students in kindergarten through grade 12, as well as ungraded students and students reported as being enrolled in grade 13. Excludes students in prekindergarten.

3 For 2014 and earlier years, data on the total number of EL students enrolled in public schools and on the percentage of public school students who were ELs include only those EL students who participated in EL programs. Starting with 2015, data include all EL students, regardless of program participation. Due to this change in definition, comparisons between 2019 and earlier years should be interpreted with caution. For all years, data do not include students who were formerly identified as ELs but later obtained English language proficiency.

4 Categorizations are based on unrounded percentages.

5 Saunders, W.M., and Marcelletti, D.J. (2013). The Gap That Can't Go Away: The Catch-22 of Reclassification in Monitoring the Progress of English Learners. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(2): 139–156. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). English Learners in Public Schools. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from

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