Language Policy


Fairfax County Public Schools | IB Schools Language Policy

The Office of Advanced Academics, the Office of Language Arts, and the Office of World Languages collaborated with representatives of our IB schools, including IB coordinators, ESOL teachers, English teachers, and world language teachers, to develop the FCPS IB language policy. This is a working document.

The essence of human interaction is founded on language and communication. The world that our students will encounter as adults will be vastly different from the one we know today. The rapid development of telecommunications will make the ability to communicate in more than one language a necessity. Therefore, it is important to prepare our students for this multilingual environment by ensuring that they are able to function in at least two languages. During the learning process, they will derive the benefits of developing insight into their own language and culture as they learn to communicate with others.

ib-logoThe primary goals of the world languages program in Fairfax County Public Schools are to ensure that students:

  • Communicate in languages other than English
  • Gain knowledge and understanding of other cultures
  • Connect with other disciplines and acquire information
  • Develop insight into the nature of language and culture
  • Participate in multicultural communities at home and around the world

These goals include a comprehensive focus for instruction that takes language learners beyond the traditional confines of the classroom. In the world language curriculum, students will not only learn to communicate with native speakers of the language, but they will do so with the cultural knowledge necessary to interact in an appropriate way.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) recognizes the diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds of our students and their families and is committed to providing an appropriate education for each of our students: supporting language acquisition, sustaining the mother tongue, and requiring English language arts instruction. As a district, 20% percent of our students are second language -English Language Learner (ELL) students. FCPS supports language minority families by providing adult English language instruction, resources in multiple languages, and translation services. Although the primary cultural home for many of our students is a language other than English, some do not have the linguistic structure; the students can speak, but not read and write fluently in their home language. We offer Language and Literature world languages courses in the school communities where these languages are supported.

FCPS also supports students with formal language instruction in other languages by offering credit by examination in 18 different languages. Students must demonstrate that they have reached the intermediate range of proficiency as described by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) K- 12 Performance Guidelines.

Student Achievement Goals

The IB programs in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) support the FCPS Portrait of a Graduate, which outlines attributes students are to develop to be life-long and successful learners. Students of all FCPS schools are expected to become an Ethical and Global Citizen and a Communicator, both attributes that develop language learning. Additionally, the FCPS School Board Student Achievement Goals outline two precise targets for all students to aspire to meet.

    • All students will communicate in at least two languages. This goal has two components: native English-speaking students will become competent in communicating in at least one other language in addition to English and English Language Learners (ELLs) of other world languages will become proficient communicators in English.
    • Students will understand the interrelationship and interdependence of the countries and cultures of the world.

It is also our goal that all students will take at least one advanced academic course (IB) prior to graduation. FCPS IB programs operate via open-access where any student who wishes to challenge themselves in a language facility can do so according to their strengths and interests. FCPS is focused on closing the achievement gap for all students, including our under-represented minority populations as well as our English Language Learners.

FCPS Language Curriculum

Language and Literature

English is the primary Language A instruction in FCPS. Our IB schools have worked diligently to build strong vertical articulation to prepare students to complete their Language A studies successfully. In addition to English language instruction, FCPS supports reading and writing across the curriculum; we believe that it is the responsibility of all teachers to improve our students’ ability to communicate effectively both orally and in writing. In the diploma program, schools have the choice of offering English A1 at both the higher and standard levels. FCPS has been monitoring the new Group 1 curriculum to insure a smooth transition. We feel strongly that the new Language and Literature courses have the potential of providing increased access to our students, including English Language Learners and students with special needs.

Fairfax County provides additional support in English language acquisition for our English Language Learners (ELLs). The state of Virginia has adopted the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) as its assessment for students’ English language proficiency. Students assessed as entering, beginning, developing, or expanding receive classroom instruction in English for speakers of other languages. Students may access Transitional English 9 as a bridge to the general English classroom. English teachers also coordinate with ESOL teachers to provide appropriate differentiation in the English Language Arts classroom. FCPS teachers are encouraged to give students the opportunity to reflect and communicate in their mother tongue as a scaffold to understanding. We believe that allowing students to process the content in their native language is effective in building knowledge.

FCPS also supports students in their mother tongue by offering the option of Language and Literature. Individual schools create the most appropriate course of study for their students with the guidance of student services and the IB coordinators.

Language Acquisition

The content of the World Languages Program of Studies is organized around seven essential strands of language development and application for students: Person-to-Person Communication; Listening and Reading for Understanding; Oral and Written Presentation; Cultural Perspectives, Practices, and Products; Making Connections through Language; Cultural and Linguistic Comparisons; and Communication across Communities. The two strands for Latin in lieu of the Person-to-Person strand are Reading for Understanding and Using Oral and Written Language for Understanding.

In order to support our student achievement goal that all students will be able to communicate in two languages, FCPS continues to expand its world languages program, especially in elementary school. In our partial immersion program, started in 1989, students learn mathematics, science, and health through the medium of a world language (French, German, Japanese or Spanish). Half the school day is spent learning math, science and health in the target language. Students receive instruction in English for language arts and social studies during the other half of the day. The FCPS program model is based on the highly successful immersion programs that were implemented in many school districts throughout Canada and the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. The uniqueness of an immersion program is that the world language is not taught as a subject. Instead, the language becomes the language of instruction for part of the curriculum. Children then acquire the second language through interesting and meaningful activities in the language as they learn the concepts of the various subjects included in the elementary curriculum. Research studies show that learning a second language at an early age has a positive effect on intellectual growth and leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and improved listening skills. The IB program builds on the partial immersion program by allowing students to continue their study of the language in high school; Spanish immersion students may choose to study Spanish 4 or Spanish Literature. A limited number of students have been able to study IB French Literature. Individual schools adopt their world language (language acquisition) choices to meet the needs of their immersion students. For example, if a boundary change brings an influx of students from a partial immersion program in a language not offered at the high school, the language may be introduced to the IB program.

FCPS has also introduced the FLES program (Foreign Language in the Elementary School), beginning with first grade in selected schools. FCPS continues to increase the numbers of FLES programs in schools. FLES is an approach to language learning that allows students to develop basic communicative skills in a language while reinforcing and enriching content in other disciplines. The FCPS FLES model develops students' language proficiency by providing language instruction that supports the concepts taught in the subject areas at the respective grade level. Generally, programs have 30 minutes of instruction two to three times per week, which is articulated through middle and high school. FCPS FLES model is based on the research that shows that students are not only able to learn, but are also highly engaged in learning content through the target language. In addition, the culture of the target language is integrated into instruction in support of our student achievement goals.

Belvedere Elementary School offers FLES to sustain language delivery to meet IB language practices for the PYP. Seventh grade students begin their study with a semester of instruction presented in a sustained delivery model over the course of an academic year. Eighth grade students continue their course of study, receiving high school credit for successfully completing a year of instruction at the high school level. Students in the IB diploma program who were not a part of the Middle Years Program are counseled to begin their study of a second language no later than eighth grade. Students who do not have the opportunity to study a second language by ninth grade (i.e., transfer from another school district) may study language at the standard level; students with three or fewer years of a language may study language ab initio.

Each school has the option to choose its world languages for instruction. We currently offer language instruction in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, and Classical Languages. Our world languages program is fluid, recognizing changes in the global community. FCPS continues to offer European languages and Latin, but we are also including more opportunities to study Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic. In adding or changing a language for study, schools usually survey the community, including parents and students. Changes are also instituted when necessary to allow students to continue their studies from elementary and middle school.

Implementation of the Language Policy at Robinson Secondary School

James W. Robinson, Jr. Secondary School is a 7-12 school serving a culturally and linguistically diverse student body of approximately 4,000 students.  The reported ethnicity of our student body is 58.9% White, 14.7% Hispanic or Latino, 13.4% Asian, 8.3% Black, 6.3% Multi-Ethnic, and 0.2% American Indian or Native Hawaiian.  Collectively, we were born in over 80 nations.  While only 2.9% of our students are currently considered Limited English Proficient (LEP), an additional 5.7% are classified as Formerly Limited English Proficient and more than 50 different primary languages are spoken in our students’ homes.  Our goal is to embrace and respond to this diversity through language instruction that explores a variety of cultures and is appropriately differentiated to meet the needs of all students.  This is the goal in all classrooms regardless of the subject area.

To better meet the needs of our community, Robinson employs a part-time parent liaison/interpreter, proficient in Spanish, to communicate important information between the school and home for our Spanish-speaking families.  FCPS provides interpreters for any other language needs that families might have.

Robinson strives to support the diverse languages and cultures in our community.  Through a variety of classes and activities, students are encouraged to embrace their own cultural heritage and learn about the cultures of other students.  Multiple student-led organizations like the Minority Students of Robinson, the Latin American Student Association, and the Muslim Students Association also work to bring our cultural and language diversity into the consciousness of the school community and provide students with a place to explore their own cultural heritage.  These student groups organize a Cultural Awareness Week and an International Show each spring, providing an opportunity for students to share their culture and learn about the culture of others. 

Language and Literature Curriculum

All Language and Literature courses at Robinson are taught in English and students are required to take one in grades 7 through 12.  Students may choose to take regular English or English Honors between grades 7 and 10.  In grade 11, students have the choice of regular English, IB English Literature HL I, or IB Language and Literature HL I.  In grade 12, students have the choice of English 12, English 12 Honors, IB English Literature SL II, or IB English Literature HL II.

The Honors courses are open-access and are designed to allow intellectually curious, highly capable and motivated students to move at a faster pace, deal with more abstract and complex material and focus on the writer’s use of language.  Instruction is enriched and extended through research-based practices designed to engage and challenge advanced learners (e.g., problem-based learning, research, and investigations). 

The incorporation of IB tenets and the Middle Years Program also continues to expand that type of instruction into regular-level English courses throughout all grade levels. Teachers work diligently to create lessons that encourage students to reflect upon and think deeply and critically about the material they read.  They are provided with meaningful opportunities to apply their learning to new literature and real world situations and to investigate the enduring concepts and contexts evident in what they read. 

English instruction is a whole language approach and follows the standards set forth by the National Council of Teachers of English.  Students are actively engaged in reading, writing, speaking and listening, both informally and formally.  Many teachers in the department have been trained through the National Writing Project, whose philosophy embraces the importance of drafting, feedback, revision and publishing.  Students are taught how to talk about writing in peer revision groups and how to make substantive changes to their own work based on the feedback of others.  Students are invited to revise multiple times, learning to refine their language, clarify ideas, and develop their thoughts in detail.  The relationship between the reader and the writer is emphasized through the use of reader response and structured Socratic Seminars.  Opportunities for writing and speaking for different purposes and different audiences are provided throughout the six year program.

The English Department also teaches elective courses:  Creative Writing and Journalism for students in grades 7-12, Film Study for students in grades 9-12, and Advanced Composition for students in grades 10-12.  These courses may be taken in addition to the regular required courses.  In addition, the English Department offers remedial courses for students requiring additional assistance to meet grade-level language arts benchmarks.

Language Acquisition


Supports are put in place to ensure that ELs are able to access the Language and Literature curriculum since English is not their native language. The below table summarizes the course of study for ELs based on their grade level and WIDA level:

WIDA Level

7th Grade

8th Grade

9th Grade

10th Grade


Beginning English 7

and Beginning English Language Development

Beginning English 8

and Beginning English Language Development

English 9 for English Learners and English Language Development (Level 1)

English 10 for English Learners and English Language Development (Level 1)


Beginning English 7

and Beginning English Language Development

Beginning English 8

and Beginning English Language Development

English 9 for English Learners and English Language Development (Level 2)

English 10 for English Learners and English Language Development (Level 2)


English 7 and Developing English Language Development

English 8 and Developing English Language Development

English 9 for English Learners and English Language Development (Level 3)

English 10 for English Learners and English Language Development (Level 3)


English 7 and ESOL Academic Language

English 8 and ESOL Academic Language

Transitional English 9 and English Language Development (Level 4)

English 10 and English Language Development (Level 4)


English 7

English 8

English 9

English 10

Based on needs and language mastery assessments, students may be placed in a small self-contained class with only an EL teacher to work on English acquisition and Language and Literature. Students with a higher mastery of the English language may be placed in either a team-taught Language and Literature class with an EL teacher and a general education teacher, or they may be placed in a classroom environment with only a Language and Literature teacher, with access to support from ELL teachers and resources as needed.  Robinson also offers Academic Language, a course for higher level EL students to take in conjunction with their Language and Literature class. Academic Language provides students the opportunity to explore and engage with vocabulary and language unique to academic and instructional settings. EL student success is also supported through students being enrolled in an intervention period with an EL teacher to focus on improving the specific difficulties each student has with mastery of the English language.  Finally, EL students whose assessments indicate they need additional language support are provided with small-group instruction with an EL teacher in Individuals and Societies (Social Studies), Science, and Mathematics.

EL students often acquire enough English skills that they can attempt IB Diploma Program math and science courses as well as some IB Diploma Program electives.  Teachers are sensitive to the issues of language acquisition and make accommodations to help students navigate the terminology and develop conceptual understanding.

World Languages

Students at Robinson have the opportunity to study Chinese, French, German, Latin and Spanish as a second language and are encouraged to begin this study in grade 7, affording them the opportunity to study a second language for six years.  Additionally, Robinson has special classes in the middle school (grades 7 – 8) for students who have been Spanish immersion students in elementary school; in grades 1 – 6, immersion students have received 50% of their daily instruction in multiple subjects in Spanish.  As middle school students, they are grouped together and given formal Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 coursework that emphasizes reading and writing skills.  These students then take Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 in the high school before entering the IB Spanish classes, where they will do higher level work.  The school also offers Spanish 1, Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 for fluent speakers, in recognition of the growing Hispanic population in our community and the need to differentiate instruction for these students. 

Our Language Acquisition courses focus on student mastery of the chosen language through person-to-person communication, listening and reading for understanding, oral and written presentation, cultural perspectives, practices and products, making connections through language, cultural and linguistic comparisons, and communication across communities. Teachers provide students with high quality instruction and ample time to practice and process the learned language skills. Students are provided with authentic situations and assessments in which they can apply their language learning.

The vast majority of students in grades 7-10 are enrolled in Language Acquisition classes. All students are encouraged to enroll in these courses, however, scheduling conflicts and other academic needs (i.e. special needs, remediation for state required tests, etc.) have to be taken into consideration. Our goal is to continue to increase the student enrollment of our Language Acquisition courses by highlighting these courses with students and emphasizing the benefits of becoming proficient in a second language.  The World Languages Department also works closely with our Special Education Department to invite and place students with special needs into their classes.  For example, students with certain learning disabilities are steered away from Chinese because of the very different alphabet.  Students in the speech and hearing disabilities program are encouraged to take Latin. 

All languages have honor societies and students from those societies are actively engaged in tutoring younger students.  The school also holds an annual highly successful International Night which showcases foods, dress, music and dance from around the world.  Teachers in all five languages annually sponsor trips abroad to countries in which the second language is spoken.

Formulation and Dissemination of the Policy

The language policy is established at the county school system level by specialists in language arts and second languages and in concert with committees of classroom teachers.  The local school practices reflect both the county policy as well as the guidelines provided by the International Baccalaureate.  Local school instruction reflects regular team meetings within departments to review pedagogy, share instructional strategies and review assessment practices.  Individual teachers communicate with parents through Back to School Night programs, bi-weekly progress reports, regular emails, and special program evenings.  Additionally, there is a parent newsletter, the RamGram, that disseminates information monthly.  The county language policy is posted on the website and the school policy is posted on the Robinson website.  The school policy is reviewed annually by teachers in the English, World Languages and Special Education Departments and the Middle and High School Instructional Councils.