Does State Pre-K Effectively Serve English Language Learners?

As the population of young children changes, there has been an increase in research focusing on English Language Learners (ELLs). For The State of Preschool 2009 yearbook, data were collected on the number of ELLs in state-funded prekindergarten programs, support services for ELLs and their families, and whether or not programs identify having non-English speaking family members as a risk factor for eligibility.

Twenty-four out of 38 states (63 percent) with state-funded prekindergarten initiatives were able to report the number of ELL students in their programs. Of these states, Texas reported the largest number of ELLs enrolled in their pre-K program with more than 85,000 children, while West Virginia reported having only 26 ELLs enrolled. To see the other state-funded programs that were able to report ELL enrollment, click on the image below.

During the 2008-2009 school year, 17 pre-K programs identify having non-English speaking family members as a risk factor used – in addition to income status – to determine eligibility. In addition, 31 pre-K initiatives in 24 states have at least one support service for ELLs and their families. Examples of these support services include permitting bilingual classes in pre-K, presenting information to parents in their primary language, or having translators available if children do not speak English. Nineteen initiatives in 16 states have policies that do not regulate services for ELLs.

For complete information on state-funded preschool programs, go to the 2009 Yearbook Interactive Database.

— Dale J. Epstein
Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

Yearbook ELL Data


  1. how possible would it be to find a way to do testing on vpk students when they start and when they end the vpk program. many of my brigter students are going to charter schools and private schools and will probably not get tested and there for no included in my testing scores. how can we measure what they have learned if we don’t have a true starting point of what they come to school knowing.

    we need across the board everyone doing the same thing. standards are great but we need to see where we started from.

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  3. We agree that the approach taken in Florida is not an equitable way to compare programs. Even using pre-tests would not fix all of the problems with this method but it would at least help. The only option that I see for your program is to do the testing yourself at the end of each school year to ensure you have the data should the state ever consider defunding you. In addition, I would recommend that you get involved with advocacy groups and get this method of assessing programs changed to something more defensible and fair.

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