Just as teachers and school leaders know that no two students are alike, the same can be said for our ELL students - ELLs are not a monolithic group, but comprise a wide range of cultures, interests, English proficiency levels, and learning styles.

One group of ELL students (who themselves are unique and diverse) that deserves special attention from schools are long-term ELLs. Long-term ELLs are students who have had six or more years of ESL services and have still not passed the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) and attained English proficiency. These students may have oral proficiency in English, but have still not mastered basic and academic reading and writing. Long-term ELLs also tend to be at greater risk for academic failure and dropping out of school.

On the DOE website, The Office of ELLs in the Division of Students with Disabilities and ELLs provides demographic information on ELLs, including Long-term ELLs.

If you have long-term ELL(s) at your school, you may wish to create a specific plan for helping them achieve English proficiency and increase their academic success. Things to consider when designing a plan for your long-term ELL(s) include:

  • Who is this student? What characteristics of his or her background, prior education, and/or learning style are influencing his or her inability to attain English proficiency?
  • What steps does the school need to immediately take to help this student succeed academically?

Strategies for Working with Long-Term ELLs

The Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban Society at CUNY has undertaken to research more about who our long-term ELLs are and what can be done to help them succeed academically. Their study found that there are three main groups of long-term ELLs: (1) students who move back and forth from the U.S. and their home country, (2) students with inconsistent schooling in the U.S., and (3) transitioning students who need more time to acquire English. The study suggests that there are several ways schools can help support long-term ELLs:
  • Maintaining the consistency of students' programs and services is important. Students who move in and out of bilingual, ESL, and mainstream programs from year to year had a harder time acquiring English.
    • This may mean that parents need to be informed about the importance of keeping their children in similar programs, even when switching schools.
  • Schools should create, implement, and adhere to clear and coherent school-wide policies and programming to be able to provide long-term ELLs with consistent support.
  • Secondary schools must be prepared to explicitly teach literacy to long-term ELLs, and cannot assume that such students have prior literacy instruction (either in their home language or in English).
    • This can include infusing literacy instruction across the curriculum.

A draft of the article can be viewed at:

Yvonne and David Freeman have also published a 2002 report on Closing the Achievement Gap: How to Reach Limited-Formal-Schooling and Long Term English Learners. Their findings suggest the following strategies for working with long-term ELLs:
  • Challenging, theme-based curriculum helps build students' academic and content concepts;
  • Infusing students' cultures, backgrounds, experiences, and languages into lessons and curriculum;
  • Collaborative activities and scaffolded instruction can help build students' academic English proficiency; and
  • Helping students value themselves as learners and value their schools can assist their motivation and academic success.