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Civil rights groups urge Florida, other states to consider neediest children in ESSA plans

By Jeffrey S. Solochek
Times (2016)
Principal Nikita Reed talks to fourth-grade students at Melrose Elementary School, one of Florida's most struggling schools.

A coalition of civil rights organizations has asked the leaders of Florida and 33 other states that have yet to submit their new federal education accountability plans to strongly consider the needs of their poorest and most at-risk students when developing their proposals.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights told Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart that it's critical the Florida plan meet the purpose of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which aims to provide "all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and close educational achievement gaps."

"Your ESSA plan is a declaration of your commitment to the education of all children," the group wrote in its letter to Stewart. "This plan should set meaningful, aggressive, consistent, and achievable goals for ensuring children are prepared for future success and explain how the state will hold schools and districts responsible for educating all students."

It stressed areas including the need to hold schools accountable for student data disaggregated by demographic groups, and to emphasize a school's four-year graduation rate in the accountability system.

Florida recently closed its public comment period on its draft plan, which includes several waiver requests, including a proposal to report the performance data of subgroups jointly rather than separately. Department of Education officials indicated they plan to review and possibly revise the draft based on all relevant input, and to submit the state plan by the Sept. 18 deadline.