Indicators

English Language Learners
(Last Updated: May 2015)

The percentage of public school students in the United States who were English language learners (ELL) was higher in school year 2012–13 (9.2 percent) than in 2002–03 (8.7 percent) and in 2011–12 (9.1 percent). In 2012–13, five of the six states with the highest percentages of ELL students in their public schools were located in the West.


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.1 The percentage of public school students in the United States who were English language learners was higher in school year 2012–13 (9.2 percent, or an estimated 4.4 million students) than in 2002–03 (8.7 percent, or an estimated 4.1 million students) and in 2011–12 (9.1 percent, or an estimated 4.4 million students).


Figure 1. Percentage of public school students who are English language learners, by state: School year 2012–13

Figure 1. Percentage of public school students who are English language learners, by state: School year 2012–13

NOTE: Categorization based on unrounded percentages.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Local Education Agency Universe Survey," 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 204.20.


In 2012–13, 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 ELL students constituting 22.8 percent of public school enrollment in California. Eighteen states had percentages of ELL public school enrollment between 6.0 and 9.9 percent. These states were Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington. In 12 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 2002–03 and 2012–13 in all but 11 states, with the largest percentage-point increase occurring in Kansas (4.9 percentage points) and the largest percentage-point decrease occurring in Arizona (9.6 percentage points). Over the two most recent school years, 2011–12 and 2012–13, the percentage of ELL students in public schools decreased in 19 states, with the largest decrease occurring in Hawaii (4.6 percentage points). In contrast, 30 states and the District of Columbia experienced an increase in the percentage of ELL students, but only two states (Illinois and Washington) and the District of Columbia experienced an increase of more than 1.0 percentage point, with the largest increase occurring in the District of Columbia (1.9 percentage points).


Figure 2. Percentage of public school students who are English language learners, by locale: School year 2012–13

Figure 2. Percentage of public school students who are English language learners, by locale: School year 2012–13

1 Located inside an urbanized area and inside a principal city with a population of at least 250,000.
2 Located inside an urbanized area and inside a principal city with a population of at least 100,000 but less than 250,000.
3 Located inside an urbanized area and inside a principal city with a population less than 100,000.
4 Located inside an urbanized area and outside a principal city with a population of 250,000 or more.
5 Located inside an urbanized area and outside a principal city with a population of at least 100,000 but less than 250,000.
6 Located inside an urbanized area and outside a principal city with a population less than 100,000.
7 Located inside an urban cluster that is 10 miles or less from an urbanized area.
8 Located inside an urban cluster that is more than 10 but less than or equal to 35 miles from an urbanized area.
9 Located inside an urban cluster that is more than 35 miles from an urbanized area.
10 Located outside any urbanized area or urban cluster but 5 miles or less from an urbanized area or 2.5 miles or less from an urban cluster.
11 Located outside any urbanized area or urban cluster and more than 5 miles but less than or equal to 25 miles from an urbanized area, or more than 2.5 miles but less than or equal to 10 miles from an urban cluster.
12 Located outside any urbanized area or urban cluster, more than 25 miles from an urbanized area, and more than 10 miles from an urban cluster.
NOTE: Locales are based on an address's proximity to an urbanized area. Data in this figure are based on the locales of school districts rather than the locales of the schools themselves.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Local Education Agency Universe Survey," 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 214.40.


In 2012–13, 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 14.0 percent of total public school enrollment, ranging from 9.4 percent in small cities to 16.7 percent in large cities. In suburban areas, ELL students constituted an average of 8.5 percent of public school enrollment, ranging from 5.9 percent in midsize suburban areas to 8.9 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 6.0 percent of public school enrollment, ranging from 5.9 percent in 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 4.4 percent in fringe areas.


1 Ross, T., Kena, G., Rathbun, A., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, J., Kristapovich, P., and Manning, E. (2012). Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study (NCES 2012-046). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


Glossary terms: English language learner (ELL), Geographic region, Public school or institution
Data Sources: Common Core of Data (CCD) and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)