Who Are ELLs?

ELLs, or English Language Learners are defined in many ways, but generally they refer to students who do not fluently speak Standard English. Usually, this refers to first- or second-generation immigrants who grow up speaking a different language from English, but those who speak nonstandard forms of English also count. For example, Debra O’Neal and Marjorie Ringler, 2010 observe rural students in North Carolina who speak a dialect of English.

New York City, in particular, as such a diverse location and a hub for many immigrant communities, has a large ELL population – a full report from the 2013-2014 school year can be found here, and it goes into more specific detail about the ELL student body in the city’s public schools:

  • ELLs comprised 14.7% of the total student body in DOE (public) schools.
    • Different boroughs have different concentrations of ELLs: 30.3% of Queens’ student body is comprised of ELL students, while “Brooklyn and the Bronx also made up a large percent of foreign-born ELLs with 29.4% and 24.4%of ELL students, respectively.”
  • “Approximately 84.8% of NYC ELLs received free or reduced-priced lunch, which is higher than the 69.8% of non-ELLs who received free or reduced priced lunch during the school year”
  • 61.8% of ELLs speak Spanish at home, followed up by 14.2% of ELLs that speak Chinese at home
  • Only 49.0% of ELLs are foreign-born.

The New York City DOE defines ELLs using one of two exams: the Language Assessment Battery-Revised (LAB-R) or New York State Identification Test for English Language Learners (NYSITELL). Every year, ELLs must then take the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) – once they score a “proficient” or higher, they are no longer categorized as ELLs.