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English Language Learners

Designation of LEP Students: School Year 2003-2004

chool Superintendents and Charter School Leaders
Mark K. McQuillan, Deputy Commissioner of Education
March 25, 2004



As you know, the past year has brought significant changes for limited English proficient (LEP) students and the districts that serve them. Commencing with the 2003-2004 school year, districts are required to implement the amended G.L. c. 71A, the state law governing the education of LEP students. The amended law, which refers to LEP students as "English learners," requires such students (with certain limited exceptions) to receive sheltered English immersion (SEI) instruction until they are proficient in English. The provisions of No Child Left Behind further require that MCAS data be disaggregated for LEP students for purposes of AYP determinations, and that districts annually assess all LEP students for English language proficiency. Finally, Massachusetts' foundation formula was recently adjusted to include the number of LEP students as a factor in FY05 Chapter 70 aid to cities and towns. All districts enrolling LEP students will now receive extra credit for the additional costs of educating these students.

The Problem

As Department staff reviewed the October 1, 2003 SIMS data, it became apparent that some districts were using different criteria than they had used in the past to identify which of their students are LEP. This is affecting how districts are implementing the laws and policies applicable to LEP students. It is also affecting how districts count LEP students for the FY05 foundation enrollment, in view of the financial implications these numbers hold. Specifically, this year several districts have reported dramatically higher numbers of LEP students than in past years.

In view of this situation and the effect it may have on this spring's SIMS data collection, we believe it would be helpful to review the legal requirements regarding the designation of students with limited English proficiency, as well as the Department guidelines that govern the implementation of these requirements.

Definitions and Requirements

General Laws c. 71A, §2(d) defines "English learner" as "a child who does not speak English or whose native language is not English and who is not currently able to perform ordinary classwork in English." For purposes of this memorandum, we will use the term "LEP student" to mean "English learner."

Districts must have in place a process and a set of criteria to determine whether an LEP student who has been enrolled in the district during the school year is still limited English proficient at the end of the school year and, therefore, whether to continue to designate this student as LEP on the SIMS data collection. Department regulations promulgated under G.L. c. 71A state that school districts shall "establish criteria, in accordance with Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines, to identify students who may no longer be English learners." 603 CMR 14.02(4).1


Below is a summary of Department guidelines in regard to the continued designation of LEP students as LEP, and to the redesignation of LEP students to "not LEP." These guidelines reflect what has been common practice in most Massachusetts school districts for many years, and so should not result in a significant change in process or in numbers of LEP students during 2003-2004.

  1. A school-based team, including members familiar with the student's English language proficiency in a classroom setting, should make the decision about the LEP status of a student. This team should use written district criteria and procedure in making this determination.

  2. In determining LEP status, the most important variable is English language proficiency, including speaking, listening, reading and writing in both social and academic settings. As in the past, the Department is requiring districts to use the MELA-O, LAS-R and LAS-W instruments to assess the English proficiency of LEP students in the 2003-2004 school year. The Department suggests that districts consider the performance scores in each of the areas listed below when developing district criteria and procedures for determining English language proficiency.
    The district criteria may also include results of other assessments of English language proficiency, and results of other formative assessments used in the district in its exit criteria. Again, use of additional criteria such as these has long been common practice in many districts, and we expect that it will continue during 2003-2004.

Suggested Guidelines: No longer limited English proficient

MELA-O: a score of 4 or higher on both comprehension and production
LAS - Readinga score of 3
LAS - Writinga score of 2 or 3

Application of Guidelines

  1. In General. MCAS scores should not be considered when making an LEP determination. The MCAS tests were not designed to be assessments of English language proficiency of non-native English speakers, and the results of MCAS tests are not to be used to make a determination of English language proficiency.

  2. March SIMS data. Changes in the number of LEP students between the October 2003 data and the March 2004 data should reflect the number of LEP students who have left the district and the number of LEP students who have enrolled in the district since October 1, 2003. In the past, districts have not redesignated large numbers of LEP students to "not LEP" during the school year, and we do not anticipate this will happen during the 2003-2004 school year. There may, however, be some redesignated students reflected in the March data report.

  3. June SIMS data. The final determination of LEP status should be made before the end of the school year, and the result of this determination should be reflected on the June data collection. The MELA-O and LAS R/W tests are administered in April, and the results of all tests will be reported to districts before the end of school in June. These results can then be used when making this determination. If the school-based team decides that the student is still LEP, the student should be designated as LEP. If the decision is that the student is no longer LEP, this should be reported, as well.

    If a student is no longer LEP, he/she should be considered Formerly Limited English Proficient (FLEP). While the FLEP designation is not reported in SIMS, Department staff will be able to make that determination by comparing SIMS data across reporting periods.

Additional Guidelines for FLEP Students

As noted above, the acronym FLEP is used to designate students who at one time were classified and reported as LEP, but who subsequently met the district's English language proficiency criteria and were then reported as not LEP in the SIMS data collection. Federal civil rights law requires that FLEP students' academic progress is monitored, and NCLB requires that FLEP students receiving Title III-funded services are monitored for two years.

  1. Once a district designates a student as FLEP, using district criteria and procedures, it should monitor the academic progress of the student over the next two school years. If such a student fails to make academic progress, as measured by grades and assessments, during the first year after being classified as FLEP, and if a school-based team familiar with the student determines that this failure is due to lack of English proficiency, then the student should be redesignated LEP for purposes of the subsequent SIMS data collection. Only after several months of monitoring should a FLEP student be considered for redesignation as LEP. Redesignation should reflect at least a three-month period of data gathering and observation.

  2. If a FLEP student is redesignated LEP, that student must be educated in accordance with G.L. c. 71A. With each designation and/or redesignation of a student as LEP, districts must take immediate steps to provide the student with the services and options required under state and federal law, including educating the student in sheltered English immersion classrooms and hiring additional qualified personnel if needed.

Final Observations

Although districts are permitted some discretion in the design and implementation of LEP classification criteria and procedures, this discretion must be exercised carefully and with an eye toward meeting the guidelines offered above. Please ensure the accuracy of LEP classification determinations as you complete the March 1 SIMS data collection.

If you have further questions, please contact Kathryn Riley, Administrator of the Office of Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement, at or 781-338-3522.


Last Updated: March 29, 2004
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