English Learners

Tennessee students speak more than 140 languages, and it is the responsibility of the educational system to ensure all of these students are appropriately supported in their English language development and in their progress toward mastering the academic standards for each grade level and content area.

Determining if a New Student is an English Learner

If a newly enrolled student responds with a language other than English on any part of the Home Language Survey (HLS), he or she must be screened for ESL services. The screener is given only once in the educational career of the EL. The student's scores on this screener will determine if the student will be classified as one of the following: EL (English Learner) or NELB (Non-English Language Background).

For students who have limited English proficiency based on the screener and have been identified as ELs, English as a Second Language (ESL) services must be provided through an allowable service delivery model. Also, in content-area classes, teachers must modify or accommodate instruction and assessments to make content area standards and curriculum accessible to EL students. If a student is considered NELB, he or she will not receive ESL services.

The following chart outlines the minimum services that a student should receive based on their grade level and their score on the English screener.

Student's Grade Level Student's Score on the English Language Screener Qualifies for ESL Services Does not Qualify for ESL Services
Kindergarten first semester 27 or below on listening and speaking X  
28 to 30 on listening and speaking   X
Kindergarten second semester Any of the following:
  1. Listening and speaking 27 or below, or
  2. Reading less than 14, or
  3. Writing less than 17
All of the following:
  1. Listening and speaking 28 or above, and
  2. Reading 14 or above, and
  3. Writing 17 or above
First grade through twelfth grade Composite score of less than 5.0 or any domain
(reading, writing, listening and speaking) score less than 4.5
Composite score of 5.0 or better and 5.0 on literacy   X


Determining English Learner Services and Transition/Exit

Cut Scores for 2017-18 Placement and Classification

EL student results on the WIDA ACCESS 2.0 assessment (administered annually) are used to make placement decisions. The department has set temporary cut scores for the 2017 administration of ACCESS 2.0. The following cut scores are to be used for placement the 2017-18 year:

  • 4.2 for the overall composite
  • 4.0 for literacy

The cut scores can be used to determine placement of ELs and to determine if an EL can be reclassified from EL status to Transition 1 (T1) status. There can be no adjustment of these scores and both criteria must be met.

For 2018-19 EL placement, the department will review data from the 2018 WIDA ACCESS 2.0 assessment to determine the proper cut scores by determining proficiency intersections between WIDA ACCESS and the English language arts TNReady assessment.   

ESL Service Hours Required  for ELs

  • For EL students scoring 3.5 and below on the WIDA ACCESS 2.0, ESL service hours are one hour per day, 5 days each week.
  • For EL students scoring 3.6 and above on the WIDA ACCESS 2.0, ESL services should be differentiated based on the needs of the student. For example, many of these students may still need an hour each day while others may need a reduced amount of time, perhaps 45 minutes or less a day. Others may need fewer than 5 days each week. However, these students must still receive ESL services. Students who are scoring near exit and doing well academically and on other state assessments should be served as needed. If the literacy scores are significantly lower than the composite score, the EL may require ESL services that focus on reading and writing.

(Updates coming soon based on State Board of Education decision on Friday, Aug. 25)

Exiting ELs to a "Transitional" Status

In order to be re-classified from EL to a transitional status (T1), the EL is required to meet both cut score criteria (scoring 4.2 on overall composite and 4.0 on literacy for grades 1 through 12). The transitional phase lasts for four years (T1, T2, T3, T4 for each year of the four-year transition). Transitional students are not assessed with the WIDA ACCESS 2.0.

During transition years one and two (T1 and T2), students are monitored and served as needed. During years transition years 3 and 4 (T3 and T4), no specific services beyond what would be done to differentiate for any student is expected of the district.

Please note: If the child was exited from EL status by another state more than one year prior, the exit should stand as valid, with the understanding that the EL could be re-screened data show concern with English proficiency or academic performance during the school year.


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