Understanding the Three ELD Proficiency Levels for the State of California

The state of California has established the CA ELD Standards to outline and define the three proficiency levels in English language development for English Learners (ELs). These proficiency levels, namely Emerging, Expanding, and Bridging, serve as indicators of the progress made by ELs in improving their skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing English. By categorizing ELs into these three levels, educators are able to effectively track their language development and provide appropriate support and instruction to help them advance to higher proficiency levels.

What Are Proficiency Level Descriptors CA?

Proficiency level descriptors (PLDs) in California serve as benchmarks for assessing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of English Language Learners (ELs) at different stages of their language development. These descriptors outline the expected competencies for students across a continuum, reflecting what they should know and be capable of at the emerging, expanding, and bridging levels.

At the emerging level, PLDs outline the foundational skills and knowledge that students should acquire as they begin to develop English language proficiency. These include understanding basic vocabulary and sentence structure, as well as being able to communicate and comprehend simple ideas in English.

At this stage, ELs should demonstrate a broader and more complex vocabulary, as well as the ability to understand and produce more complex sentences. They should also be able to engage in more extended conversations and express their opinions and ideas with greater precision.

Upon reaching the bridging level, ELs are expected to display a high level of proficiency in English. The PLDs at this level illustrate the ability to comprehend and analyze more complex texts, express oneself fluently and accurately, and participate in academic discussions. Students at this stage should also demonstrate a deep understanding of grammar and syntax, as well as possess the ability to produce coherent and well-structured written work.

The PLDs play a crucial role in informing instruction and assessment for ELs. Educators can use these descriptors to guide their instructional planning, ensuring that they design appropriate and challenging activities that meet students specific language needs. Additionally, the PLDs provide a framework for assessing students progress over time, serving as a reference point for determining their readiness for exiting English learner programs and transitioning to mainstream classrooms.

The proficiency levels encompass a range of skills and abilities, allowing individuals or organizations to assess their capabilities in different areas. These levels help identify areas of strength and areas that require further development. It’s crucial to understand each proficiency level’s specific criteria and how they apply to a particular context or skill set. Let’s explore the five proficiency levels in detail and delve into what each level entails.

What Are the Five Proficiency Levels?

Proficiency levels are used to measure the capability or expertise of individuals in a specific field or subject matter. When assessing proficiency, a scale from 1 to 5 is often employed, where each level represents a different level of knowledge or skill. The first level, NA, stands for Not Applicable and is used when an individuals proficiency can’t be evaluated due to various reasons.

Moving up the scale, level 1 signifies a basic or elementary understanding of the subject matter. At this stage, individuals have just begun their learning journey and possess nominal knowledge or skills. They’re considered novices and require guidance and support to further develop their proficiency.

Level 2 represents a competent proficiency. Individuals at this stage have acquired a solid foundation of knowledge and skills, demonstrating a satisfactory grasp of the subject matter. While they may not be considered experts, they’re capable of performing tasks and functions related to the field with a certain level of independence.

Progressing to level 3, individuals attain an advanced or expert proficiency. They possess extensive knowledge, mastering complex concepts and techniques within the subject matter. At this stage, individuals are capable of taking on more specialized and challenging assignments. They can analyze, evaluate, and provide insights or recommendations based on their expertise.

Level 4 indicates a superior or exceptional proficiency. Individuals at this level have achieved a high degree of mastery and are recognized as authorities in their field. They possess in-depth knowledge, often with a wealth of experience, enabling them to handle complicated problems and provide strategic guidance.

At the highest level, level 5, individuals exhibit an outstanding or unparalleled proficiency. These individuals are true experts and thought leaders in their respective fields. They possess comprehensive knowledge, exceptional skills, and an exceptional ability to innovate and deliver transformative solutions. Level 5 individuals often play a significant role in shaping the development and advancement of their field.

Challenges and Considerations in Evaluating Proficiency Levels

  • Validity and reliability of assessments
  • Defining proficiency levels
  • Standardizing the evaluation process
  • Assessing multiple skills and domains
  • Cultural and linguistic considerations
  • Accounting for individual differences
  • Ensuring fairness and equity
  • Aligning assessments with instructional goals
  • Providing timely and constructive feedback
  • Tracking progress over time

Source: What’s the NIH proficiency scale? | Office of Human Resources

ELD Level 1 is a beginner English Language Development class designed to help students develop basic English vocabulary and grammatical structures for effective communication. In addition to improving language skills, this course also focuses on developing literary and analytical skills that will prove beneficial in future academic pursuits.

What Is ELD Level 1?

ELD Level 1 is a foundational English Language Development class designed for beginner learners. The primary objective of this course is to help students develop a basic understanding of English vocabulary and grammatical structures, enabling them to effectively communicate in the language.

Throughout the course, students will engage in various activities and exercises aimed at improving their vocabulary and language comprehension skills. This will involve learning commonly used words and phrases, as well as practicing their listening and speaking abilities in a supportive and interactive environment.

The course will also emphasize the importance of proper grammar usage. Students will be taught the basics of sentence structure, verb tenses, and other grammatical rules. Through practice exercises and assignments, they’ll gain a solid foundation in English grammar, enabling them to construct grammatically correct sentences and effectively convey their thoughts and ideas.

By focusing on vocabulary, grammar, reading, and writing, students will be well-prepared to communicate effectively in English and succeed in their academic endeavors.


This framework enables educators to better understand and support ELs in their language growth, ultimately working towards their successful integration into the academic and social aspects of English-speaking communities. Through the implementation of these proficiency levels, California is prioritizing the linguistic and educational needs of ELs, fostering equal opportunities for success and inclusivity within it’s diverse society.

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