Florida education commissioner Robinson responds to concerns over testing of English-language learners
The Florida Board of Education's recent decisions to change the state's school grading system continue to draw criticism from Hispanic leaders who remain dissatisfied with the way students still learning English are to be treated in the model.
One particular complaint is that several recommendations a task force offered to soften the negative impact on communities and schools with large populations of English learners went by seemingly ignored. Commissioner Gerard Robinson, who's been on the defensive over many testing-related matters lately, is seeking to quell the growing discontent.
In a letter to the Gradebook, Robinson heaped praise on the community and leaders who are taking the charge on behalf of ELL students. He also aimed to make clear that while he didn't propose all the task force ideas to the State Board, he investigated all the proposals and reviewed each with federal officials to see exactly what could and couldn't be done.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the stakeholders who continue to be champions for the students in Florida and specifically our English language learners," he wrote. "The four recommendations above that were approved by the State Board of Education will have a positive impact on our ELL students. These recommendations were a direct result of the task force meetings and would not be part of our current accountability system without their efforts."
Read on for Robinson's full response.
"First, as Education Commissioner, I would like to thank the task force members for their continued support and efforts on behalf of Florida’s English language learners. During the stakeholder meetings, I invited taskforce members to bring all recommendations forward. All task force recommendations were shared with the USDOE. After discussion with USDOE and review of current Florida law, I presented five recommendations to the State Board of Education, which were all approved. Four of the five provide some level of support for English language learners (ELLs) and ensure that they are included in all our measures.
"The first recommendation, that directly supports our ELLs, was approved by the USDOE and was a direct result of the work of the task force. This recommendation is to redefine the federal policy for the date of entry into the accountability system. The USDOE’s previous date was the date the student entered the country. For many of our English language learners, this makes no sense; the majority of ELLs in our state as well as across the country are born here in the United States. After discussing this with the USDOE, they agreed to accept our recommendation that the date of entry is the date the student enters a school in the United States. This supports our students by increasing the availability of time-bound funded services based on this new entry date. The second recommendation provides support to all schools by limiting a school grade to no more than one letter grade drop. This will allow time for all schools, teachers, and students to transition to new standards; therefore, a school with a high population of any student group that might need more time to transition will not be more heavily impacted. The third recommendation is that the learning gains calculation be weighted positively for every student with a below grade level test score but higher than average learning gains; therefore, schools will be given additional credit for English language learners who are struggling with English proficiency but learn at higher rates than their peers. This policy benefits the student as well as the teachers who are providing quality instruction. The final recommendation resulted in protecting districts and schools from inappropriately separating any subgroup of student in separate alternative schools by requiring the learning gains and performance of these students to count in their home school grade. This policy incentivizes districts and schools to make decisions regarding where students are enrolled based on the students’ best educational interests as opposed to an individual school’s best interest.
"There were several task force recommendations that would not be allowable because of the requirements of federal law, federal regulations, and the terms of the USDOE waiver or that would not be allowable because of current state law. The issue that was clearly communicated by the USDOE was that English language learners who have been enrolled in schools in the United States greater than one academic year must be included in all Florida accountability indicator areas including both student gains and student proficiency categories and that gains and proficiency must be measured on the same tools for all students. This requires Florida to assess ELLs on FCAT and include them in gains and proficiency measures. An additional recommendation from the subcommittee was the inclusion of English proficiency measures from Florida’s English language acquisition assessment, the Comprehensive English Language Learning Assessment (CELLA). This assessment is currently not allowable as an assessment in the state accountability system as defined in state statute. Additionally, CELLA will be replaced in two years by a new English language acquisition assessment. This is one area we will continue to discuss and possibly submit legislative change requests in the future to allow evidence of English language acquisition to be included as a component of our accountability system.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the stakeholders who continue to be champions for the students in Florida and specifically our English language learners. The four recommendations above that were approved by the State Board of Education will have a positive impact on our ELL students. These recommendations were a direct result of the task force meetings and would not be part of our current accountability system without their efforts. Although the recommendations are not the exact recommendations of the taskforce, it is my opinion that they honor the intent of the task force, and that is to provide incentives for districts and schools to provide a quality education to these students.
"Sincerely, Gerard Robinson, Florida Commissioner of Education"