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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Debate continues on Florida's testing policies for English-language learners

Leaders of Florida's advocates for English-language learners remain dissatisfied with the state Department of Education's words and actions on how the children are treated in testing and accountability, despite commissioner Gerard Robinson's efforts to answer their criticisms.

The commissioner's appreciation of their efforts to improve policies is duly noted and accepted, Rosa Castro Feinberg of the LULAC State Education Commission told the Gradebook. But his information seems to have "extensive" discrepancies with the "simple facts," she continued.

She and others issued an open letter to Robinson (attached below) urging him to fix what they consider major problems with the official state position on ELL students. Here's an excerpt:

Do the Commissioner’s actions match his generous and welcome words of praise?

No. Here are three examples to support this conclusion.

a. There was to be a meeting on May 22nd at 1:30 to include discussion of accountability for ELL and ESE student performance with representatives from the Governor's office, the House Education Committee Staff, the FDOE, and one Task Force member: Patricia Levesque. Why was only one Task Force member invited to the meeting? Why was there no invitation for each of the three subcommittees? Why was there no one from the ELL Subcommittee of the Task Force invited? When your office received the invitation, why weren’t steps taken to correct the omission? 

b. The position of Bureau Chief for the Division of Student Achievement through Language Acquisition (SALA) has been vacant since March 30th. During a period of time when expertise in the education of ELLs is critically needed, why has there not been greater priority accorded to filling this position? Why has a schedule for filling it not been communicated to the applicants and the public? 

c. The very same message that proclaims your admiration for the Task Force and for the ELL community confirms that only part of one sole recommendation directly related to ELLs was brought to the Board for adoption.  This failure to act is not fair to ELL students or their parents, teachers, communities, and elected officials; the advocacy and professional education organizations that struggle to get respectful audience and an occasional response from the FDOE; or the members of the State Board of Education.

To be very clear: We do not assume that the Board is obliged to rubber stamp the Task Force recommendations. We do expect, however, more than superficial efforts by the FDOE to understand them, bring them and interpret them to the Board, and broker them to the USDOE.

Is it impossible to repair the damage caused by delay in acting on the recommendations of the Task Force?

No. There is still time to take the actions that would add credibility to your statements and better serve Florida’s children. When the FCAT writing test problem emerged, you took immediate steps to alleviate the problem. Please act with similar speed to pave the way for adoption of the ELL recommendations in time to meet the July 15th deadline for final approval of the state's ESEA Flexibility Waiver application.

Several ELL advocates plan to address Robinson personally this evening in Boca Raton at one of his town hall meetings. LULAC also will be discussing this and other issues at their convention in Tampa this weekend. Stay tuned to see how these issues play out, particularly as everyone sees how the new rules affect FCAT scores and school grades in the coming weeks.

[Last modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 2:35pm]


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