A Home Language Survey (HLS) is a series of questions asked of all students at the time of enrollment. These questions are designed to determine if a student is exposed to languages other than English at home, as such exposure is one indication that they may not be proficient in English. The Home Language Survey is a tool which helps schools determine which students should be screened for English Language Proficiency (ELP) and possibly offered English Learner (EL) services.
In February 2015, the US Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released a Dear Colleague letter, highlighting the need for identification and support of ELs. On page 10 of this document they list three questions common to many HLSs, and DPI recommends that districts use these, at minimum, as part of their entry process for all students:
- first language learned
- language the student uses most often
- languages used in the home
Implementing a HLS
In general, it is easiest to implement a HLS as part of the enrollment process. The answers to the HLS questions should be recorded to meet federal requirements, including the requirement that parents who are not proficient in English are provided translations of school materials to allow them to fully participate in their student’s education.
Should the answer to one or more of these questions be a language other than English, the US Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights recommend that a student be administered a standardized ELP assessment. See the OSA page on ELP Screeners for more information.
Limits Regarding HLS Questions and Answers
OCR has placed significant limitations on what can be asked in a HLS and what can be done with the answers to a HLS. In general, asking about residency or immigration status is not allowed, and using the responses for anything other than making any decisions on whether or not to screen a student for ELP may also infringe on student and/or parental rights. For more information, see the Dear Colleague letter linked above, and the OCR page on Schools' Civil Rights Obligations to English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents.
DPI, in conjunction with other WIDA consortium states and the UWMadison Center for Education Research, is creating and validating a more advanced HLS process for EL entry. Our goal is to go beyond these three questions and create a streamlined, researchbased tool to better support ELs and nonELs, and be able to offer it to all schools and districts.
For information on the status of this tool, please contact either the Title III or EL Assessment Coordinator at DPI.