National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, Washington, DC.
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Despite the divergent methods used and the varied estimates they yield, research on the size of the limited English proficient (LEP) student population in the United States clearly indicates that this group is growing at a significantly faster rate than the overall student population. According to a recent U.S. Department of Education-sponsored study conducted by the Special Issues Analysis Center (SIAC), many factors influence the data sets, from how the term "LEP" is defined to whether data were collected from state or local education agency (SEA or LEA) surveys (Hopstock and Bucaro, 1993). According to the SIAC report, two approaches have been used to estimate the size of the LEP population and examine trends in enrollment: Census counts from 1980 and 1990 and school-based studies. In Census-based studies, the data collection is "generally comprehensive and consistent in definition" (p. 3). However, the reliability of Census counts in estimating the total LEP population is lessened by the use of a subjective scale in determining an individual's proficiency in English and by data collection that may have omitted significant portions of the population. While school-based approaches generally rely upon some type of criteria for determining LEP status, they may provide an inexact picture of the total LEP student population since the definition of "LEP" varies from state to state-a student considered LEP in one state is not necessarily counted as LEP in another state (Hopstock and Bucaro, 1993). Furthermore, data gathered through the Survey of states' limited English proficient persons (reported annually to OBEMLA by the SEAs) is limited by the fact that only states receiving Title VII funds are required to report such data. Regardless of how data are collected, estimates indicate that the LEP student population has been growing at a significantly faster rate than the overall student population (see figures 1 and 2). Furthermore, there is little evidence to indicate that the rate of growth of the LEP student population will diminish in the near future (Hopstock and Bucaro, 1993).