The term ELL (English Language Learner) is applied to students whose primary language is other than English. These students may have a current proficiency level in English that qualifies them for additional language support through the Washington State Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program (TBIP). The goal of the ELL Program is to assist students in developing their English language proficiency and grade-level content knowledge at the same time.


Mission Statement: Bellingham’s ELL Program is dedicated to building capacity at the district, school, and classroom level to ensure that ELL students develop English language proficiency and content knowledge in an environment where linguistic and cultural assets are recognized as valuable resources to learning.


Our model for English Language Development is Sheltered Instruction/Content-Based Instruction. This is an approach for teaching English language learners (ELLs) using specific strategies to make academic subjects comprehensible and accessible while promoting the students’ English language development. This English Language Development support is received by all ELL students in their classrooms, though individual or small group support is also available as needed. Some specific instructional models that are implemented in Bellingham Public Schools are SIOP, Project GLAD, and Thinking Maps.


For more information about how this looks, click:

Elementary School Model        Middle School Model     High School Model


Frequently Asked Questions

How do students qualify for the ELL Program?

All students who register with a school in Washington state are asked to fill out a Home Language Survey that identifies their primary language.  When a student has identified a language other than English as their first language, they will be given a state-approved language proficiency placement test within ten days of their enrollment to determine qualification of ELL program.

How long do students stay in the ELL Program?

ELL students who reach Level 4 and/or Level 5 in all areas (Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing) on the annual ELPA21 English language proficiency test transition out of the ELL Program for the next school year. The ELPA21 is administered every year in February-March. Students who transition out of the program are monitored by the ELL Program for another two years to ensure they remain academically successful.

When students arrive in Bellingham from another country, how are they placed in Bellingham Schools? 

Students of all English language proficiency levels are placed in classrooms according to age-group. This is in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects the rights of students with limited English language proficiency (LEP) to equal access of programs and activities receiving Federal funds. It is a violation of students’ rights if LEP students are retained in grade for failure to demonstrate basic skills in English.

What are the standards for English Learners?

English language learners (ELLs) are taught and assessed on their grade level standards in Language Arts, Math, Science, and other content areas. There are also English Language Proficiency Standards that are used by ELL Specialists and other teachers to understand what students at different levels of English proficiency should be able to do.

How are ELLs assessed, and what is the ELPA21?

The ELPA21 (English Language Proficiency Test for the 21st Century) is an assessment that measures English Language Learners’ command and mastery of the rigorous academic standards in the domains of Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.

Bethany Barrett, Director of Teaching and Learning – English Language Learners

Robin Gilster, Secretary



Quick links:

ELL Program Contacts 

Interpretation & Translation Support

Department of Family Engagement 

Title III Native American Program

Teacher Resources