National Evaluation of Title III Finds Wide Variances in How States and Districts Define and Implement Policies and Programs for English Learners

Washington, D.C. – A new evaluation of Title III implementation, released by the U.S. Department of Education and conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), found that states and school districts vary widely in how they define English Learners (ELs) and how they set thresholds for achieving proficiency in English. As a result, a student identified as an EL in one district might lose that status by moving into another district in the same state.

National Evaluation of Title III Implementation: Report on State and Local Implementation examines how states, districts, and schools were implementing Title III provisions in the 2009-10 school year. It found that eight states and the District of Columbia established consistent statewide criteria for identifying English Learners. The remaining 42 states gave districts discretion in identification decisions.

Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides funds to states and districts and requires them to help EL students’ attain English language proficiency and meet state academic standards in core academic subjects. The evaluation addresses the lack of sufficient research on how local jurisdictions have implemented Title III.

Nationally, the number of EL students served by Title III–funded programs in kindergarten through 12th grade (K–12) increased by 18 percent between the 2002–03 and 2007–08 school years, growing from approximately 3.7 million students to 4.4 million students.

chart of statistics associated with English Language Learners and Title 3. Contact author for accessible version. Additional findings of the evaluation include:

  • Eight states and the District of Columbia established consistent statewide criteria for identifying ELs, while the remaining 42 states provided districts with discretion in making identification decisions. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia had established consistent criteria within their states for exiting students from the EL subgroup, while the remaining 32 states allowed for district discretion. Thus, a student who is considered an EL in one district may not be eligible for services in another district, even within the same state.
  • About one of every three schools in the nation reported needing assistance to meet the needs of ELs. Overall, about one-quarter of the schools needing technical assistance reported that their needs had been met.
  • Nationally, Title III-funded urban districts and Title III-funded districts with high poverty rates tended to have higher numbers and percentages of EL enrollment. For example, among Title III districts, the average number of ELs in high poverty districts (defined as districts with more than 75 percent of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch) was 1,972 in the 2009–10 school year, whereas the average number of ELs in low poverty districts (defined as districts with fewer than 25 percent of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch) was 629. In the high poverty districts, the average percentage of EL enrollment was 38 percent, while the equivalent in low poverty districts was 7 percent.
  • There are some broad commonalities across districts with regard to program offerings. Nearly all districts offer English as a Second Language instruction, and 87 percent offer content instruction in which the English instruction is modified to be more accessible for ELs.
  • As of the 2009–10 school year, nearly half of Title III district officials (46 percent) reported that a lack of information on proven curricula and programs for ELs was a moderate or major challenge.
  • States and districts indicated limitations in their capacities to support EL needs as they confronted challenges associated with insufficient funding for EL services, limitations in their data systems, shortages of staff with EL expertise, and a lack of information on proven programs for serving ELs.

Information for the evaluation was gathered from interviews with Title III and assessment directors in all states, a nationally representative survey of 1,528 districts (in which 81.9 percent of the nation’s EL population was served) receiving Title III funds, and case study data collection in 12 districts across five states.

The report is part of a four-year Title III evaluation AIR is conducting for the U.S. Department of Education. The evaluation has four main objectives: (1) To describe the progress in implementation of Title III provisions and variation in implementation across states; (2) To examine how localities are implementing their programs for EL students and how these relate to state policies and contexts; (3) To determine how EL students are faring in the development of their English language proficiency and mastery of academic content; and (4) To maintain a focus on the diversity among Limited English Proficient (LEP) students and the educational implications of this diversity.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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