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More English Learner Students Gaining Proficiency as Population Grows


For Immediate Release: August 22, 2019

JACKSON, Miss. – The population of students learning the English language is growing in Mississippi, and more students are gaining proficiency in English, according to recent results of the state’s English Language Proficiency Test (ELPT).

The state tested 12,106 English learner (EL) students in the spring of 2019, and 17% met the criteria to exit the EL program, which meant they acquired enough English to not need additional supports. While Mississippi’s EL population is growing, EL students are still progressing. Nearly 11,800 students identified as EL took the proficiency test in 2018 with 13% of those students exiting an EL program. The 4% growth from 2018 to 2019 is statistically significant.

proficiency test

For some grades, the percent of students exiting the EL program reached double digits, peaking at 36% in the 5th grade. Research shows it takes 5 to 7 years to learn a new language.

Sandra Elliott, EL intervention support specialist at the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), said a big part of academic growth in English learners is due to the increased language-specific supports from teachers in the districts. MDE has provided ongoing professional development to general education teachers, interventionists and English learner teachers on strategies to support English language development and academic growth.   

“As a result, participants in our sessions have learned effective instructional strategies for oral language skills, vocabulary, and fluency. They have also learned multiple new ways to increase instructional supports, such as the use of authentic, meaningful visuals and how to adapt word walls to meet the needs of English learners. Our teachers have risen to the challenge and our children are growing because of the hard work of their teachers,” Elliott said.

The ELPT is administered to students in Kindergarten through 12th grade who have been officially identified as English learners. This assessment, required by federal law, is administered annually to monitor English learners' progress in acquiring academic English in speaking, listening, reading and writing.

In response to the growth in EL student populations, the MDE published a comprehensive guide to help educators meet the needs of students. The guide, Mississippi English Learner Guidelines: Regulations, Funding Guidance and Instructional Supports, provides teaching resources and practical approaches to managing the day-to-day instruction.

Spanish is the most prevalent language spoken by English learners in Mississippi, but more than 20 other languages are also represented. After Spanish, the most common languages spoken by EL students in Mississippi are Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Gujarati.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to include in their accountability systems the progress English learners are making toward becoming proficient English speakers, readers and writers. To meet this requirement, EL progress will be included in official grades for Mississippi schools and districts beginning in the 2018-19 school year.


Media Contact: 

Patrice Guilfoyle, APR
Director of Communications

Jean Cook, APR
Director of Public Relations