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English Learner Education

English Learner Education Programs

Under state and federal law, English learners must master the same academic standards and have the same opportunities as others to master such standards. Instruction provided to ELs must be meaningful and appropriate for their individual English language proficiency level.

All districts that enroll any number of ELs must plan, articulate, and implement an educational program and approach(es) designed to meet the academic and language development needs of all of its ELs. Any such program must provide ELs with:

  • systematic, explicit, and sustained development of English as a Second Language (ESL), and
  • meaningful participation in the district's general educational program.

The Department will apply the three-prong test established by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Castañeda v. Pickard (Casteñeda) to determine whether a school district's ELE program complies with certain federal and state laws and regulations. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights also use the three-prong test to determine ELE program compliance under the federal EEOA and Title VI laws respectively. The Castañeda's Three-Pronged Test sets forth the following analytical framework that districts should consider in developing, implementing, and evaluating their ELE program and activities:

  • The educational theory underlying the language assistance program is recognized as sound by some experts in the field or is considered a legitimate experimental strategy.

  • The program and practices used by the district are reasonably calculated to implement effectively the educational theory adopted by the district.

  • The program succeeds when producing results indicating that students' language barriers are actually being overcome.

Sheltered English Immersion (SEI)

Massachusetts law defines SEI as "an English language acquisition process for young children in which nearly all classroom instruction is in English but with the curriculum and presentation designed for children who are learning the language. Books and instruction materials are in English and all reading, writing, and subject matter are taught in English. Although teachers may use a minimal amount of the child's native language when necessary, no subject matter shall be taught in any language other than English, and children in this program learn to read and write solely in English."

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Guidance for SEI Programs

Dual Language Education (DLE)

A DLE or TWI program is a model designed to promote bilingualism and biliteracy, cross-cultural competency, and high levels of academic achievement for both native English speakers and ELs from a single language background. DLE or TWI programs are additive bilingual programs because all students develop and maintain their home language while adding a second language to their repertoire. They receive the same core curriculum as all students in the state and the instruction is in two languages throughout the program. From a program design perspective, DLE or TWI programs should begin in the early grades (PreK-K) and may continue through the secondary level.

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Defining & Implementing Two Way Immersion Programs

Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE)

The goal of Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) is for ELs to be able to achieve long-term academic success through English-medium instruction in general education classrooms. Although teachers use the home language for instructional purposes, the transitional nature of the program does not support the further development of the students' home language. Districts can initiate TBE programs at any level, including middle and high school.

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Guidance for Defining and Implementing Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) Programs

Bilingual Education Online School Course for School Leaders Sessions RLO

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Bilingual Education Course for School Leaders (1): Why BDL Education Programs?
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Bilingual Education Course for School Leaders (2): Cultural Competency
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Bilingual Education Course for School Leaders (3): Principles of Bilingual Education
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Bilingual Education Course for School Leaders (4): How do I start a Bilingual Education program?
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Bilingual Education Course for School Leaders (5): Families and Communities Involvement

Last Updated: November 19, 2020

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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