6 facts about English language learners in U.S. public schools

LEWISTON, ME – DECEMBER 7: Students line up with their books for library in Lynn Adams’ kindergarten class at Longley Elementary School. Longley’s demographic make-up has changed dramatically in the past decade, over 70 percent of its students are English Language Learners. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

There were nearly 5 million English language learners in U.S. public schools in fall 2015, according to the most recent available data from the National Center for Education Statistics. This represented 9.5% of U.S. public school enrollees, an increase from 8.1% in 2000.

English language learners (ELLs), a broad term that refers to students with limited English proficiency, are a diverse group from many different states and native language backgrounds. The educational experiences of ELLs also vary greatly across the country, as states and schools differ in how to identify ELL students and in how to teach them. Regardless of approach, ELLs represent a growing part of the U.S. student body.

Here are six facts about English language learners in U.S. public schools.

California has the highest number and share of English language learners. The more than 1.3 million ELL students in California made up 21% of the state’s total public elementary and secondary school enrollment in 2015, around double the 9.5% nationwide share. English learners made up 10% or more of the student body in seven other states, many of them in the Southwest: Nevada (17%), Texas (17%), New Mexico (16%), Colorado (12%), Alaska (11%), Kansas (11%) and Washington (10%). States with the lowest percentages of English language students included Mississippi (2%), Vermont (2%) and West Virginia (1%).

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