Sonoma County Office of Education

English Learner Services

Improving English Language Development

California expects English learners to grow and develop in both English language skills and grade-level content proficiencies. This resource page shares information on the work of Sonoma County teachers who are delivering instruction to build the language skills of their students. Reviewing the material on this page will help you:

  • Understand California public school expectations for English learners.
  • Learn how the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) is used to measure student progress in learning English.
  • Understand how ELD instruction can promote English language acquisition and academic achievement.
  • See how local teachers are developing lessons that reach out to English learners.

Measuring English Proficiency

The California English Language Development Test – also known as the CELDT – is an assessment that measures how well a student can listen, speak, read, and write in English. Because Sonoma County has a growing population of English learners, it is very important that teachers monitor their students' developing English language skills. The annual administration of the CELDT provides key information for teachers of English learners.

There are five levels of proficiency that students can achieve on the CELDT. Here is a summary of what students at each level can typically understand and do in English.

  • Beginning | Students understand simple phrases spoken in English. They begin to speak a few words to communicate basic needs.
  • Early Intermediate | Students understand and respond to simple school tasks in English. They speak using phrases and short sentences.
  • Intermediate | Students speak, read, and write in English on familiar topics. They retell simple stories, participate in school discussions, and speak using full sentences.
  • Early Advanced | Students are developing close to native-like proficiency in English. They participate in increasingly complex school tasks.
  • Advanced | Students speak, read, and write English in a manner that resembles a native English speaker. They participate fully in all school subjects.

Expectations for English Learners

English learners in California are expected to grow at least one CELDT level per year. For example, a kindergartner who is at the “Beginning” level at the start of the year should be at the “Early Intermediate” level when entering first grade. As students progress through the grades, they should eventually reach the “Advanced” level and be reclassified as English proficient.

Read | This document on English Learner Expectations provides a graphic representation of how English skills should progress based on years in school.


Interpreting CELDT Results

Electronic CELDT reports become available in December/January. They provide schools with valuable information about their English learners. Teachers can use these reports to monitor student progress and determine what kinds of English Language Development (ELD) programs are needed.

English learners typically receive 30-45 minutes of dedicated English Language Development (ELD) instruction per day. Teachers working in professional learning communities (PLCs) can use information from the electronic CELDT report to initiate flexible grouping for ELD and content instruction.

CELDT reports can also specify the “performance level difference,” which compares two years of language testing and gives teachers progress information at a quick glance. In cases where no growth is indicated from one year to the next, educators must ask why progress has not occurred. What changes in curriculum, instructional strategies, grouping, and/or time could help the student?

Watch | Here is a video showing how educators can use Microsoft Excel to sort and analyze the data on their students’ CELDT performance.


Classroom Examples

The teachers begin by determining the purpose of the lesson, which may be content-focused, language-focused, or both. For the language portion of the lesson, they specify the language form (that is, the grammatical structure of words or sentences) and the language function (i.e., the language purpose or thinking process) that they want students to master.

Next, they identify the specific standards their lesson will address, including the English Language Development (ELD) standards, correlating grade-level English-Language Arts (ELA) standards, and any other content standards that are applicable to the lesson. Key vocabulary words that will be taught are also listed on the lesson planning form.

Kindergarten, ELD Lesson
Brandy Raymond, a teacher and CELDT coordinator in the Roseland School District, prepared an ELD lesson for kindergarten students using this planning process. She calls her lesson Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf after the book by Lois Ehlert she’ll read to her students. She has identified “singular and plural” and “verb usage” as the language forms for her lesson. She’ll teach these forms as the kindergartners learn the language function of classifying and explaining “how many.” The vocabulary for this lesson includes simple words for things in nature: leaf, tree, squirrel, seeds, plant, root.

This lesson for intermediate and early advanced English learners addresses two ELD standards. Students at the intermediate level will be learning to make themselves understood when speaking English (although they may make random language errors). Early advanced students will focus on speaking clearly, correctly, and comprehensively, using standard English grammar. With this framework, Raymond formulates language objectives for her lesson. She writes the objectives in terms of what her students will be learning or doing:

  • Students will be able to classify pictures as “one” or “more than one.”
  • Students will be able to use the singular and plural forms of “to be” in sentence frames: There is one _____. There are many _____.

Watch | In this video, Brandy Raymond teaches the Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf lesson to kindergarten students.


Read | More information on lessons that emphasize overt language objectives is included in this print publication.


Upper Elementary, Active Engagement
In upper elementary grade classrooms, teachers in the English Learner Collaborative are actively working to increase student participation in classroom discussions using language that is precise and relevant to academic topics. Doing this helps students become more engaged in learning so that the quality and quantity of their responses grow. To ensure the active engagement of English learners, teachers must scaffold instruction linguistically and academically.

An example of effective scaffolding can be found in Haley Piazza’s fourth-grade classroom at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School, where rehearsal strategies are used to increase opportunities for students to use academic language. Rehearsal strategies give students the opportunity to practice their responses before reporting out in whole-class settings. During rehearsal, students work in pairs or small groups, using interactive structures that require all partners and group members to speak and listen.

Because all students participate in rehearsal, they all benefit from the academic interaction these strategies provide – but the strategies are especially beneficial for English learners. Rehearsal techniques give these students needed opportunities to hear language models, practice language skills, and speak about academic content in safe, small-group settings.

Watch | See how Haley Piazza uses rehearsal strategies to actively engage students.


Read | Learn about increasing student response in this SCOE Bulletin on Student Engagement.



  • Rick Phelan, Director, Technology for Learners
    (707) 524-2847,