Best Practices for Identifying the Needs of English Learners

As we begin another school year, it is important to consider how to best use FAST data to support our English Learners (ELs). The number of ELs continues to grow, with groups comprising between one and twenty percent of a given state’s overall school-age population; approximately ten percent of all public school students speak a language other than English and are thus classified as ELs (U.S. Department of Education, 2019).

Both U.S. federal and state laws provide additional services for students who are learning English. An important federal law that includes provisions for EL students is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This Act was first passed in 1965 and has been amended many times since — it is currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title III of ESSA includes resources that schools can access through state-managed grants to support students who are acquiring English as an additional language.

When identifying the needs of ELs, it is important to remember there are special considerations to take whether collecting, interpreting, or using EL data. But, if English skills are not monitored, non-native English speakers may erroneously be identified as having a disability. Keeping these considerations in mind as teachers meet their new students is essential to ELs success this school year.

Evaluating for More than Just English Proficiency

Although it may seem counterintuitive to assess students who are acquiring English with measures written for native English speakers, it isn’t. Students who are acquiring English need to be evaluated regularly with English assessments in order to track their progress toward proficiency in the target language. Specifically, teachers of English learners benefit from administering assessments which focus on measuring the students’ acquisition of foundational reading skills in English. Educators may wish to administer an oral reading fluency assessment at the beginning of the year and set fluency goals accordingly for their students who are EL. Indeed, research suggests that monitoring the reading fluency of EL students is an effective and important practice for documenting progress (Solari et al., 2014).

When assessments such as those described above are used in tandem with student progress data in content area learning, teachers who work with English learners are better able to differentiate the effects of English acquisition on overall learning. In some cases, English learners will require more time than their peers to master content-area knowledge because they must learn the English vocabulary simultaneously with other skills; nonetheless, content-based instruction is widely accepted as an effective method when working with ELs. For students who continue to struggle with language acquisition and content mastery, educators may need to conduct an in-depth evaluation of their present levels of performance.

Using FAST™ Assessments for English Learners

FastBridge Learning® offers a number of assessments that can be used with ELs:

  • Both earlyReading English and CBMreading English are effective tools for identifying students’ progress in acquiring foundational reading skills in English.
  • earlyReading Spanish and CBMreading Spanish are also available to compare language skills for students whose first language is Spanish.
  • All four of these assessment measures can be used for universal screening and progress monitoring in order to track students’ language development.
  • While not yet available, a Spanish version of aReading is currently in development and will provide an additional screening tool for those who work with native Spanish-speaking students.

3 Key Tips for Effective Instruction for English Learners

While assessment plays an important role in supporting English learners, ultimately it is effective instruction and intervention which will improve their skills. Research about the type of instruction which works best for ELs includes several important findings:

  1. Conducting an initial screening of English learners’ baseline skills is important.

  2. ELs benefit from daily intensive reading instruction provided in small groups. Notably, both English learners and native-English speakers benefit from the same types of direct and systematic reading instruction, and different instructional materials are not necessarily required.

  3. ELs need to learn both everyday social English as well as academic English. Academic English includes the types of words and sentence structures needed to successfully navigate content area texts and communicate like mathematicians, historians, physicists, and biologists, for example.


U.S. schools have seen an increasing number of EL students in recent years. The number of languages which grace the hallways and classrooms in our schools will continue to grow in diversity, and we must ensure that universal screening and progress monitoring practices are inclusive of this population. Doing so will allow teachers to establish baseline English proficiency levels in relation to foundational reading skills and monitor students’ progress throughout the year. Research around effective practices shows that universal screening followed by intensive small group reading instruction with regular progress monitoring is best practice, for both English learners and native-English speakers alike.

In order to assist EL students in becoming proficient in English as well as other skills, teachers must have appropriate data about student performance. FastBridge Learning provides several assessments and reports that can pinpoint the strengths and needs of English learners. 

To learn more about how FastBridge's assessments effectively to support EL student needs, visit


Solari, E. J., Aceves, T. C., Higareda, I., Richards‐Tutor, C., Filippini, A. L., Gerber, M. M., & Leafstedt, J. (2014). Longitudinal prediction of 1st and 2nd grade English oral reading fluency in English language learners: Which early reading and language skills are better predictors? Psychology in the Schools, 51, 126-142. doi:10.1002/pits.21743

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). The Condition of Education 2019 (2019-144), English Language Learners in Public Schools.

English Learners, EL

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