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Who Are LEP Students in New York State?  

NOTE: For more complete information about limited English proficient (LEP) students in New York State, contact the New York State Education Department Office of Bilingual Education at (518) 474–8775 to request Guidelines for Programs under Part-154 of Commissioner’s Regulations for Pupils with Limited English Proficiency.  

  1. How do you know when a student is LEP?

Every new student that comes into a NYS school must have his/her parents fill out a Home Language Questionnaire. If a language other than English is spoken at home, then students must be tested to see what their level of English proficiency is. If they score at or below the 40th percentile on a standardized test of English reading, they are considered LEP.  

  1. Why is it necessary to score above the 40th percentile on the reading test in order to be considered English proficient? Aren’t there English speaking students who score below it too?

If a LEP student can score above the 40th percentile, then at least they will have a fighting chance in mainstream classrooms. Yes, there are English proficient students who score below this, but they are also eligible for additional services to help them improve their reading proficiency.  

  1. How do you know if LEP students should still be in ESL or bilingual programs?

LEP students are tested every Spring to see if they have reached or surpassed the 40th percentile on a standardized reading test in English.  

  1. Why do students who come from other countries have to be identified as LEP?

They must be identified in order to receive the language support that they need.  

  1. What are the languages most frequently used in NYS besides English?

In 1994 – 1995, the top five languages most frequently used by LEP students, other than English, were: Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Haitian-Creole, and Korean (the NYS Education Department Office of Bilingual Education).  

  1. Which grade levels have the most LEP students?

The majority of LEP students entering elementary school are in Kindergarten, first, and second grade. The majority of LEP students entering high schools are found in the ninth and tenth grades (the NYS Education Department Office of Bilingual Education).  

  1. Are all Hispanic students LEP?

Even though Spanish speakers make up the majority of the LEP population in NYS, as well as the largest percentage of students in NYC, many Hispanic students are not LEP. In fact, many Hispanic students don’t even speak Spanish (the NYS Education Department Office of Bilingual Education).

  1. Why should we pay taxes for "illegal aliens" to go to our U.S. public schools?

Schools are not immigration officials. Their role is to educate and not discriminate. Also, wouldn’t you rather pay now and save later on remedial education and social services?  

  1. When a student comes into a new school, how does the administration know that he/she isn’t an "illegal" immigrant?

The school administration should only ask for three things from a new student: a birth certificate to prove his/her age, some sort of proof of residency in the community, and proof of immunization. Every child has a right to an education according to a Supreme Court decision known as Plyler vs. Doe, [457 U.S. 202 (1982)]. 


  1. Do I have to acknowledge every single cultural background in my classroom, or can I just acknowledge the majority ones? What if I’ve got fifteen different cultural backgrounds?

All students are important and need to feel accepted into the classroom culture. Ask students to give presentations about their native countries so all students can learn about and appreciate each other.  

  1. Isn’t it better for these students to be treated like American students, without drawing attention to the ways in which they’re different? We want to be fair, don’t we?

Of course, you should treat them with equality, but it is important to show respect for their cultures and values too, while at the same time making them feel accepted.  

  1. Why don’t my LEP students look me in the eye when I talk to them?

The polite way to address a teacher varies greatly from culture to culture. Perhaps it is her/his sign of respect to not look directly at you.  

  1. Why should LEP students be allowed to speak their own languages in school? Won’t it just delay their learning of English?

No, it helps their learning process because literacy skills, for example, transfer between languages. Also, if an LEP student doesn’t understand directions in English, a more proficient student can explain it in the student’s native language, which will save time for the teacher.  

  1. If I know about Hispanic culture as a whole, doesn’t that mean that I’m well equipped with cultural knowledge of all Hispanics?

Actually, there are several different cultures within the broad title of "Hispanic". Puerto Rican students, for example, may act very differently from Mexican students or students from Colombia, Spain, Cuba, Costa Rica, or other Spanish speaking countries. The same holds true for students from other countries as well. For example, the term "Asian" does not adequately describe the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and other cultures found in that part of the world.


  1. What is ESL anyway?

ESL stands for English as a Second Language. The most widely used form of ESL is ESL pull-out. This means the child goes to English classes during certain times of the day, to learn and strengthen his/her English language skills, and is in the regular classroom the rest of the day.  

  1. Why do they call it English as a second language? Isn’t English the first language in this country?

Of course English is the first language in this country. It means that English is the second (or maybe the third or fourth) language that this person is learning.  

  1. Why do we need ESL teachers?

Why do we need any other teachers? ESL teachers are specially trained and certified in order to help LEP students learn English as fast as they can so they can fully participate in school.  

  1. How are you, the ESL teacher, benefiting my LEP students if you’re pulling them out of my classroom? All the other students are learning, but the LEP students aren’t because they aren’t in the classroom.

But they are learning skills that will help them to function in the mainstream classroom in the future, and you and I should be working together in order to best help the students.  

  1. How come some students are in bilingual education classes, while others go to ESL only?

It depends if the school the student is attending offers bilingual education programs; many only offer ESL. Bilingual programs are generally required in NYS only when there are twenty or more LEP students in the same building, in the same class, who speak the same language other than English.  

  1. Why do kindergarten students need ESL? It’s not like students that age know a lot anyway.

English proficient students at this age know a lot of things and they are learning new things every day. They have also had four years of English language development before coming to kindergarten. LEP students have a lot of catching up to do.  

  1. How can I as an ESL teacher work with so many different levels of LEP students in the same classroom? I have six students at different levels that speak four different languages!

Carefully group your students by ability levels; or have them work in pairs, grouping more advanced students with beginning level students.  


  1. What is bilingual education? Isn’t it just a classroom full of Spanish speaking students learning in Spanish instead of English?

In New York State, bilingual education means that classes are being taught both in English and the students’ native languages, not necessarily limited to Spanish.  

  1. How many schools in New York State have bilingual education programs? Where are these schools located?

Bilingual Education programs are conducted in 31 of the 32 Community School Districts in New York City. There are also bilingual education programs in Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Newburgh, and some larger districts on Long Island and the Westchester/Mid-Hudson region. All other programs are ESL only.  

  1. Why bilingual education? Shouldn’t these students learn English? After all, it is America, isn’t it?

As required by law and regulation, students are learning English in bilingual education programs, that’s why it’s called Bilingual.  

  1. Why do students in bilingual education programs study their native languages? Don’t they know them already?

The general goal of bilingual education programs is to maintain the students’ native languages and build upon them, while, at the same time, developing their English skills.  

  1. These students are in bilingual education classes forever! I saw a bilingual class at the high school level, what’s up with that?

In New York State, students can’t be in bilingual programs any longer than six years. You may have seen some students in bilingual programs at the high school level, but you should realize that they might be recent arrivals to the U.S.  

  1. Why does bilingual education have to take so long? I hear students who are in bilingual education classes speaking perfectly good English out on the playground all the time!

There is a big difference between the English children speak on the playground and the English they will have to use in school. Academic language takes much longer to learn than informal, conversational English.  

  1. I have the opportunity to put my native English-speaking child into a bilingual program. Wouldn’t that just slow him down and confuse him?

Putting a child into a bilingual education program won’t slow him/her down. If anything, it exposes the child to another culture and language.  

  1. Can parents take their children out of a bilingual education program?

According to New York State regulations, parents have the option to withdraw their child from a bilingual education program. However, they must keep their child in ESL until he/she is no longer LEP.  

  1. I heard that there are approximately 125 different languages spoken by LEP students in New York State alone. Are teachers expected to learn all these different languages? That’s crazy!

Actually, there are more than 125 languages spoken by LEP students in NYS. You’re right though – it would be crazy if teachers had to learn all of them! However, bilingual education programs only exist in a few languages. ESL teachers, on the other hand, are not required to know and use the students’ native languages.  

  1. Doesn’t bilingual education encourage racial and ethnic segregation?

No, grouping same language children for instructional purposes need not prevent their integration with native English speakers. In fact, they must be integrated with their English proficient peers for classes such as art, music, and physical education. 


  1. Why should LEP students even be in mainstream classes if they’re going to have so many problems? Shouldn’t they be getting more help elsewhere?

They should be getting help elsewhere, however they also need the information that is being taught in the mainstream classes – they are members of the school system.  

  1. How should I deal with my LEP students? I usually just stick them in the back of the room so they don’t feel so uncomfortable.

You should place these students in the middle of the room so they can be involved in class discussions, and are able to hear and see visuals better.  

  1. In the classroom, what are some ways to help my LEP students? If I slow down for them in my Social Studies class, or any other content area class, won’t the other students suffer?

It’s not always necessary to slow down. You might want to give directions more clearly and write them as you say them, repeat your main points, define vocabulary in context, provide a lot of visuals, create a buddy system (non-native speaker of English paired with a native-speaker of English), and keep a consistent schedule.  

  1. How can LEP students contribute to a Social Studies class?

LEP students can provide a unique perspective on the current curriculum by sharing their own personal experiences and cultural backgrounds.  

  1. Don’t Math and Science use universal language terms with universal truths? I thought that the LEP students who did poorly in these areas just didn’t have an aptitude for Math and Science.

Actually, both Science and Math are language bound, despite their greater use of non-verbal symbols. For example, consider lengthy word problems on mathematics tests.


  1. What are some of the psychological influences on LEP students?

When LEP students first arrive in a school in the United States, they may not be able to make themselves understood in even the most basic situations, due to culture shock and lack of English language skills. Therefore, it is important for teachers and school administrators to understand that the LEP students are students in transition, with their own unique circumstances.  

  1. Why do I need to know about the educational backgrounds of my LEP students?

In order to best help them, we must consider all aspects of the LEP students’ backgrounds. This may include researching their previous education in order to see where they may have prior knowledge and/or gaps in their schooling.  

  1. What are some ways that I can help my LEP students increase their reading ability?

By promoting reading in both languages and by having a print-rich environment in the classroom. This can include shopping lists, classroom rules in different languages, and a multicultural library. Also, you can read more to your LEP students and have them read to you, their classmates, and/or their parents.  

  1. In my class, the LEP students don’t seem to want to talk or take-part in group work. Why is that?

Group work may be very "foreign" to them. In their own cultures, they may be used to the teacher doing all of the talking while the students take notes. You should take special interest in acquiring background knowledge of how your LEP students were taught in their native countries.  

  1. Is it possible for me to include LEP students when we do group work in class? They just seem to sit in class and let all the other students do the work.

If you use methods such as Cooperative Learning, each student will be assigned a role in which he/she will be able to actively participate in class.  

  1. What do you do if there are only a few LEP students in a school district?

School districts could share a part-time certified ESL teacher with another school district. Or, they can use a traveling BOCES teacher who might be able to provide individual or group instruction to these students.  

  1. Can English, foreign language, and reading teachers, or speech pathologists teach ESL?

It is possible, but the ESL teacher is best qualified and has been trained in the specifics of English linguistics. He/she has studied how students learn languages and knows best how to teach students who do not have communicative and linguistic competence in English.  

  1. What role can paraprofessionals play in an ESL program?

Trained paraprofessionals who know about the cultures and languages of LEP students, and who are proficient in English, can be employed to assist teachers in an ESL program. For example, they could be in charge of small reading groups or one-on-one extra help sessions.  

  1. What should a district do to meet the needs of gifted and talented LEP students?

The students should be encouraged to develop their potential in the same way as English proficient students.  

  1. What kinds of services should a school district provide for LEP students who are handicapped?

After the student is identified as being both LEP and in need of Special Education services, and has been tested by a bilingual psychologist who is fluent in the child’s native language, State regulations require that both services must be provided. (For further information, refer to CR part-154).  

  1. Why can’t an LEP student be evaluated by a regular school psychologist?

A fair, non-biased psychological evaluation of an LEP student is best done by a certified school psychologist who is competent in the language and culture of the student. If this is not possible, the psychologist should be assisted by a translator who is familiar with the student’s culture and language.


  1. Are LEP students exempt from New York State’s higher standards?

No, LEP students are not exempt from NYS higher standards, which is why they desperately need even more of the support services that are currently offered to them.  

  1. What are our LEP students expected to achieve and how will we help them to meet the new, higher standards?

Our LEP students are expected to do equally as well as native speakers of English. We can help them achieve success by integrating content areas with second language support, including extra time spent with them after school, on weekends, and during the summer.  

  1. Can LEP students graduate from high school if they don’t pass the required Regents examinations?

No, and some LEP students may need additional time in high school to prepare, especially if they haven’t had many years of schooling. This is a new requirement that will be phased in in 1999.  

  1. What happens if an LEP student fails the Regents?

The student can take the exams over until he/she passes them.  

  1. If students have taken ESL, why are some of them allowed to take the content area Regents exams in their native languages?

LEP students are in ESL because they need language support. Often times, they seem to speak English well, but they are not ready to take exams that contain difficult, academic language.  

  1. If they can pass the English Regents, why can’t they take the other Regents in English too?

Most likely if they can pass the English Regents, they’re already proficient in English. However, they may not have learned the appropriate academic language for other Regents exams.  

  1. Doesn’t it give the LEP students an unfair advantage when they take the Regents in their native language?

No, the tests are for the purpose of demonstrating knowledge of the content area.

  1. I’ve asked our school administrators to provide our LEP students with a standardized test of English reading during the spring, to test the students’ level of proficiency in English, but they say they no longer give standardized tests at every grade level. Is there an answer to this problem?

The New York State Regulations (Commissioner’s Regulations part-154) require that all LEP students be tested every spring to evaluate their needs and progress, to determine whether or not they have reached the 40th percentile on a standardized test of reading in English, and to plan their placement for the following school year.      


  1. What are some ways to get LEP students’ parents involved in the school?

Send home weekly or monthly packets of students’ work for parents to review, invite parents to come in and work on special projects with their children, and encourage parents to be reading partners with their children.  

  1. My LEP parents seem interested in their children’s schoolwork, but they always say that they are too busy to attend school functions. How can I accommodate them?

Hold meetings at several different times and days of the week, or send out a survey in the native language which asks which times they are available to come in to the school.  

  1. Our school tries to get all parents in for a parent teacher conference once a year, but LEP parents don’t have a very good attendance record. What can we do?

In other cultures, parents may not be expected or welcomed into their children’s schools unless the child is in trouble. Have meetings that focus on the positive aspects of the student’s behavior.  

  1. I’ve tried writing letters and calling home to my LEP students’ parents, but they still don’t get involved, what can I do?

You can find someone in the building or in the community to serve as a translator. Or, you can schedule a meeting close to where the parents live, for example, in a church or in a library. Just keep trying!  

  1. What are some services that I can ask my school district to help provide for my LEP parents so they may be more likely to come to meetings and other activities at the school?

Providing free babysitting services using volunteers and arranging for transportation, are good ways to promote parental involvement.  

  1. The LEP parents seem to distance themselves from other parents at school meetings. How can we promote unity?

You might try "ice-breaker" activities and/or social functions such as sharing ethnic foods and entertainment as part of the meetings.  


 NOTE: Questions 1 – 5 are adapted from:

Crawford, James. BEST EVIDENCE: Research Foundations of the Bilingual Education Act. Washington, DC: The National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1997. 

  1. It seems like English isn’t even our country’s primary language anymore. Every time I walk down the street, I hear so many other languages being spoken; I feel like I’m not in America anymore! What can I do to change this?

In fact, 97% of the U.S. population speaks English, therefore, English is still the primary language. Many LEP adults are on long waiting lists for ESL classes. They want to learn English.  

  1. Isn’t it true that the more children are exposed to a language, the faster they will learn it?

This may seem like common sense, but if the child doesn’t understand anything that the teacher is saying, then the information will go in one ear and out the other with no comprehension and little learning taking place.  

  1. Why can’t young children and older learners learn English in the same classroom? They’re both learning English, right?

This may seem possible, but older learners learn at a different level and rate than young children do. Older learners can use prior school knowledge that they may have had to help them with their learning, whereas young children lack the background of experience.  

  1. My grandfather learned English without any help, how come these students can’t?

Most of the past immigrants have faced a very different socioeconomic situation than today. There was a wider variety of jobs that did not require a high level of English proficiency. Also, your grandfather may have been an exception; many immigrants struggled a great deal to learn English, and some never did.  

  1. Isn’t it true that language minority parents don’t support bilingual education because they think that it’s more important for their children to learn English than to maintain the native language?

Perhaps those parents do not understand the principles of bilingual education. Good bilingual programs look to cultivate proficiency in both languages. Developing proficiency in the first language is the best way to develop it in the second language.



This New York State Education Department website provides information on NYS standards, the Board of Regents, teacher certifications, State tests, etc.


Education Week is a site devoted to bilingual education. It successfully breaks down terms, presents articles on related bilingual education issues, and provides the user with names of organizations related to the field. Related web sites are also provided, in addition to suggested books for background reading.


The National Association for Bilingual Education is the only national organization exclusively concerned with the education of language minority students. On the site, discover information that deals with the political arena surrounding bilingual education, while gaining access to legislation, policy, and press releases sent out by NABE.


 The National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education addresses critical issues pertaining to the education of linguistically and culturally diverse students in the United States.


This particular site is concerned with the promotion of bilingual education through background information, recent news on bilingual education, and funding opportunities related to bilingual education.


The homepage of TESOL, with almost 18,000 members worldwide, enhances communication between language specialists, while providing services from advocacy to career planning to updates on the latest standards.


 A site whereby teachers on the information highway can quickly drop in and download ready to use materials.


This website offers links and resources for ESL teachers that cover lesson plans, thematic units, address books for contacting other teachers, and other networking sites.


The Virtual English Language Center created a site whereby students, teachers, and speakers of English from around the world can have online access to relevant materials, services, and products.


Dave's ESL Cafe contains a discussion center, a job center, a variety of lesson ideas, as well as answers to frequently asked questions concerning ESL.


This ESL Web Guide contains 1293 listings by Dave Sperling pertaining to ESL and bilingual education.


ERIC clearinghouse's site provides a wide range of services and materials for language educators – digests, short bibliographies, newsletters, and a question and answer service.


This New York State website provides general information about bilingual education and ESL in New York State.


Education Web Sites provides links to virtually every area of education, including Bilingual Education, Multicultural Education, and ESL.






Cordeiro, Paula A. et al., eds. Multiculturalism and TOE. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, 1994.


Igoa, Cristina. The Inner World of the Immigrant Child. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1995.


Lee, Courtland, C. Counseling for Diversity: A Guide for School Counselors and Related Professionals. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.


Losey, Kay, M. Listen to the Silences: Mexican-American Interaction in the Composition Classroom and Community. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1997.


Powell, Richard R. et al., eds. Field Experience: Strategies for Exploring Diversity in Schools. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Simon & Schuster Company, 1996.




August, Diane and Hakuta, Kenji, eds. Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.


Gonzalez, Gustavo, and Maez, Lento, eds. Compendium of Research on Bilingual Education. Washington, DC: The National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1997.


Inger, Morton. Increasing the School Involvement of Hispanic Parents. ERIC/DUE Digest number 80, August 1992.


Nicolau, S. and Ramos, C. L. (1990), Together is better: Building strong relationships between schools and Hispanic parents. Washington, DC: Hispanic Policy Development Project.


Rubio, Olga. "’Yo Sol Voluntaria’ Volunteering in a Dual-Language School." Urban Education Vol. 29 No. 4, (January 1995).




Cornell, Charles. "Reducing Failure of LEP Students in the Mainstream Classroom and Why it is Important". The Journal of Educational Issue of Language Minority Students. 15 (Winter 1995) Boise State University.


Crawford, James. Bilingual Education: History, Politics, Theory, and Practice. 3rd Ed. Los Angeles: Bilingual Education Services, Inc., 1995.


Dietrich, Deborah and Ralph, Kathleen S. "Crossing Borders: Multicultural Literature in the Classroom". The Journal of Educational Issue of Language Minority Students. 15 (Winter 1995) Boise State University.


King, M., Fagan, B., Bratt, T., and Baer, R. ESL Through Content Area Instruction: Mathematics, Sciences, and Social Studies. JoAnn Crandall ed. 1987.


Bilingual Dictionary of Mathematical Terms: English-Chinese. Albany: New York State Education Department, Division of Bilingual Education, 1988.




Richard-Amato, Patricia A., and Marguerite Ann Snow, The Multicultural Classroom: Reading for Content Area Teachers. White Plains: Longman, Inc., 1992.


Carrasquillo, A. L. and Rogriguez, V. (1996), Language Minority Students in the Mainstream Classroom. Bristol, PA: WBC Book Manufacturers Ltd.


Correa, M. (1995). Incorporating Cooperative Learning Strategies to Improve Science Achievement Scores Among Ninth Grade ESOL One and Two Physical Science Students. Nova, Southeastern University.


Peregoy, S. and Boyle, O., Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL: A Resource Book for K-12 Teachers, 2nd Ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1997.


Perrone, V. (1991). Moving Toward More Powerful Assessment. In V. Perrone (ed.), "Expanding Student Assessment". Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.