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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Lawmakers urge Florida Board of Education to reconsider school grade rules for English-language learners

The Florida Board of Education's decisions to change the state school grading system to count the proficiency levels of students still learning English has drawn criticism from some of the state's top Hispanic politicians.

U.S. Rep. Iliana Ros-Lehtinen, state Sen. Rene Garcia and state Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera have sent letters (attached below) to the board deploring its new policies, and the fact that several recommendations made by educators and activists were completely overlooked. They're asking the board to think again, with an eye toward removing barriers that could hurt schools and students who can't necessarily show their academic prowess in English.

"By not including any of the recommendations of the Task Force, your actions will severely impact the positive trend in student achievement made by Miami-Dade County Public Schools and various other school districts," wrote Garcia, chairman of the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus.

"These actions will likely lead to more schools in the state dropping a letter grade, increase the number of schools statewide receiving an “F”, put schools/communities with a high percentage of students for whom English is a second language at an unfair disadvantage, and result in fewer students considered to be on grade level.

"I am asking for the removal of all state impediments to the adoption of ELL Task Force recommendations and proceed to negotiate, face to face, recommendations that require federal approval. The negotiating team should include Task Force members. I am respectfully asking that you make a decision that is fair and benefits all of Florida’s students. Thank you."

Commissioner Gerard Robinson told the board during its May meeting that some of the recommendations put forth require legislative action before they can be put in place. He also stated that Florida's federal No Child Left Behind waiver depends on implementing new rules that fully account for the test results of both ELL and special education students. Even so, he added, a "no" now doesn't mean that at least some of the ideas won't happen in the future.

The state already has taken many hits for implementing several school grading changes all at the same time, taking effect without much opportunity for schools, teachers and students to prepare. This adds to the growing voice of discontent. The state wavered once on FCAT writing amid pluncing scores, and has aimed to mitigate the damage further by saying no school grades will drop more than one letter this year only.

Will that be enough, though? No one is expecting a strong showing when the rest of the FCAT data comes out, perhaps as early as this week. More and more school districts are contemplating whether to join a growing anti-test movement. Some parents are reviving that old "opt-out" talk.

Accountability isn't on its way out, that seems certain. But perhaps the way it's handled will be more carefully considered. And soon, if the angry chorus grows much louder.

[Last modified: Monday, May 21, 2012 1:29pm]


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