• English language learner;
  • validity;
  • ELL classification;
  • assessment;
  • No Child Left Behind

High-stakes decisions for the instruction and assessment of English language learner (ELL) students are made based on the premise that ELL classification is a valid dichotomy that distinguishes between those who are proficient in the use of the English language and those who are not. However, recent research findings draw a vague picture of the term “ELL” and call for a more valid classification system for ELL students. Thus, the purpose of this paper is twofold: (1) to reveal issues concerning the validity of the current ELL classification system based on the results of several empirical studies, and (2) to initiate a discussion on ways to improve the validity of the ELL classification system by proposing a system that uses existing multiple criteria in a stepwise manner. While the suggested system has its own limitations and controversies, we hope this discussion stimulates thoughts and brings much needed attention to this very important national issue.