Most Hurricane Maria evacuees will not count in Florida’s school accountability system, Education commissioner says

Puerto Rican evacuee Shamira Melendez, 4, watches "Finding Dory" on a tablet while her mom Ivana Reyes, 22, talks to representatives from local agencies at the Hispanic Outreach Center Thursday 11/2/2017. Hurricane Maria evacuees are settling into area schools and seeking services. [Jim Damaske | Times]
Puerto Rican evacuee Shamira Melendez, 4, watches "Finding Dory" on a tablet while her mom Ivana Reyes, 22, talks to representatives from local agencies at the Hispanic Outreach Center Thursday 11/2/2017. Hurricane Maria evacuees are settling into area schools and seeking services. [Jim Damaske | Times]
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Island evacuees of Hurricane Maria continue to enter Florida schools, keeping state and district officials on their toes to ensure they can meet the children's needs.

As the students work to settle in, they won't face the added pressure of having to quickly adapt to the state's academic accountability system, education commissioner Pam Stewart told the Florida Board of Education on Tuesday.

The youngsters will take the state's year-end tests, Stewart said. But their results will not be used as part of the annual school grading system.

The federal government approved an accountability exception for these children who are English-language learners, as Stewart said almost all evacuees are, and who come from U.S. territories.

"This is helping those students, and it is helping the districts," Stewart said.

She noted that the children's proficiency scores will not be included in the reports, which are used to determine whether schools must follow strict improvement plans. The students also will not have any gains to report, as they did not attend Florida schools last year.

District superintendents should receive a department memo on this issue this week.

State Board members asked for several details about this displaced population, stressing their desire to ensure that schools have adequate space, money and staff to help.

"I'm sure they are handling it," board member Gary Chartrand said. "It's do they have the resources?"

Board chairwoman Marva Johnson noted that the state had extended emergency orders to ensure support for the students and the schools. The numbers might not be large, Johnson said, but "it's enough to care about."

Stewart reported that so far, 7,212 students from Puerto Rico and 710 from other islands had enrolled in Florida public schools. That's a statewide increase of 0.2 percent.

The counties receiving the largest numbers were Orange (1,793 students), Osceola (1,218), Miami-Dade (764) and Polk (569).

Stewart also has sent a letter to her counterpart in Puerto Rico, offering to help high school juniors and seniors from the island complete their diplomas with minimal interruption. Read the letter for more details.

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