What Are Special Language Programs & How Can They Be Helpful For My Child?

Many students in our Texas public schools do not speak English as their first language, and classes taught only in English are not helpful for students who are still learning English. Public schools in Texas are required to provide an opportunity – known as special language programs – for every child to learn English. If your child has a first language other than English and has difficulty completing his or her classwork, there are options for ensuring your child’s educational needs are being met.

How Can my Child Enroll in a Special Language Program?

School districts are required to send out home language surveys at the start of each school year to new students or to students who have not been surveyed. The home language survey will ask questions such as, “What language is spoken in your home most of the time?” to understand your child’s level of English comprehension.

The information provided on this survey will help the school determine the support programs that your child can participate in, which can help them find more success in their classes.

Lastly, it is important to remember that while your approval is required for your child to participate in special language programs, permission is not required for your child to be tested.

What Do ELL and LEP Mean?

After your child’s language testing, he or she will be assigned to certain categories based on his or her English comprehension level. You may hear your child’s teacher or school district refer to these categories interchangeably, but they are different and come with different recommended programs for your child.

Knowing your child’s classification and understanding what it means can help you ensure your child is getting the services and support they need.

An “English Language Learner” (ELL) is a student who is unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English. These students often come from homes where English is barely spoken or not at all.

A student of Limited English Proficiency” (LEP) is a student whose primary language is not English, whose English language skills are limited, and the student has difficulty performing ordinary classwork in English. However, he or she is typically testing slightly higher and has a greater understanding of English compared to ELL students.

Not all school districts offer bilingual education classes. The type of program your child’s school district offers depends on available resources such as funding and qualified teachers. Even if your child’s school does not offer bilingual education, many students still succeed in ESL programs where they are fully immersed in the English language.

Types of Special Language Programs 

How Can I Support My Child Who is Learning English?

Once your child is identified as ELL/LEP and is placed in a special language program, there are a few things that you can do at home and in partnership with your child’s teacher to help support your child’s progress with the English language:
  • Stay in communication with your child’s teacher.
  • Ask your child’s teacher to help make new information visual.  A teacher can use pictures to help your student better understand a new concept or vocabulary word.
  • Ask your child’s teacher if your child can participate in more group work.
  • Provide time for your child to practice English at home. You can have your child teach you a new word that he/she learned that day.
  • Encourage reading at home.
Your child should also be receiving language support in his/her classes. This can include the use of a Spanish-English dictionary and extended time on tests/assignments. As a parent, you have the right to ensure that your child is getting his or her needs met and is receiving adequate resources to support his/ her learning. To make sure this is happening, request a meeting with your child’s teacher or the school’s principal.

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