Not All ESL Programs are Created Equal: Reflecting on K-12 ESL Programs Across the Country

07 Dec 2020 1:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Authored by Brooke Boutwell, VATESOL K-12 Special Interest Group (SIG) Leader and middle school ESL teacher in Virginia Beach City Public Schools

As the year 2020 nears a much anticipated and desired close, VATESOL is focusing on the theme of reflection throughout the month of December. Many teachers are thinking back on their journey into virtual/distance learning and adapting to the unprecedented demands of educators. As a brand new Virginia ESL teacher, I chose to reflect on my unique teaching experiences. 

When I was an education major in college, my professor told us a joke that said something along the lines of when special education teachers try to out acronym the English as a second language teachers, no one wins. Little did I know that 5 years into my career, I could pour out more acronyms that I ever thought possible. Here’s why...

NYSESLAT, NYSITELL, CR Part 154, and ENL. I was introduced to the TESOL world in Upstate New York. New York has its own state run laws and regulations for ESL programs, CR Part 154. I learned all about the New York State English as a Second Language Assessment and was called an ENL teacher (English as a New Language). My first year was a bit rocky, but after 3 years, I had the lingo down. I could tell you exactly how many minutes of support a transitioning ELL was legally required to receive a week. I knew that newcomers were required to have an ENL teacher in their English class at the secondary level. I knew this information so well that I was promoted to department head after my second year.  

At the close of my third year teaching in New York, I moved to Texas and encountered another state run program. The TELPAS became a part of my daily vocabulary. I am a military wife, and my first move was to a small town in South Texas. I was hired as an English/ESOL teacher. I did not know exactly what that meant at the time. I didn't even ask because I was just happy that I had a job before I made the move across the country. I quickly learned that Texas regulations for ELLs were not as well defined as back home. I was the only ESL certified teacher for ninth grade. In fact, the person in charge of ESL for the district was actually a speech language pathologist, and knew very little about educating language learners. My job was to teach general education freshman English, but also support all other content teachers in differentiation for the ELLs in ninth grade. I learned all about TEKS, LPAC, and TABE just in time for me to pack up and move again. 

Year 5 brought WIDA and the ACCESS test. My move (hopefully the last for a while) to Virginia was the first WIDA state I have taught in. It is crazy to think that out of the 35 states that have adopted WIDA, I just so happened to come from 2 that don’t. Another state, another whole new set of acronyms and regulations to learn. It’s December and I still confuse my co-workers when I ask about the HLQ (Home Language Questionnaire in NY) instead of the HLS (Home Language Survey). I am still learning the “Can Do” descriptors and the different names for proficiency levels. 

After thinking about my personal experiences with ESL in 3 different states, I started Googling. I came across this great website that compares ESL programs across all 50 states. I will reluctantly admit I spent about 2 hours clicking on various links and falling down many rabbit holes comparing programs around the country. has data on funding, identification, and a variety of other information that you might find interesting. 

I hope you all take the time this month to reflect on a topic important to you, whether it is teaching related or not.


  • 09 Dec 2020 3:42 PM | Leslie Bohon
    Dear Brooke and VATESOL friends,
    Thank you for writing this. I thought I would just read a little, but it was so interesting, I read to the end! The acronyms are really something - I agree. Something that I would love to explore in our blog later is how we classify students in various stages of their academic or non-academic learning careers - ESL? EL? what about matriculated international students in universities? Universities in particular have a hard time "labeling" our international multi-lingual students! Thank you again for the interesting reading!
    • 10 Dec 2020 10:24 AM | Tori Pierson
      Leslie, thanks for your comment! That is a great idea for a future blog topic. If you're ever interested in contributing, please feel free to email me at!
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software