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What’s the holdup with Florida’s federal ESSA accountability plan?

A group of Pasco County students sits for an after-school algebra tutorial, in advance of the state end-of-course exam. [Times | 2014]
By Jeffrey Solochek
Wednesday 12 September 2018 13.22

Florida officials have made yet another attempt to win approval for their federal education accountability plan, submitting revisions on both June 6 — a day after receiving a negative status update — and again Aug. 24 after the June proposal was not approved.

The key point of contention, according to a cover letter from Gov. Rick Scott, has not been the concerns over learning requirements for English language learners, as some civil rights advocates repeatedly have hammered to improve.

Related coverage: Civil rights groups urge U.S. Education Secretary DeVos to reject Florida's latest accountability plan 

Rather, Scott noted, the state Department of Education has worked "extensively" with its federal counterpart in the area of Florida's "acceleration measures."

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The state has sought to exempt students from grade level math exams in high school if they successfully completed the courses in middle school. It has provided data indicating that those students continue to perform well in advanced levels of math, and stated it does not want to change its model.

See the Aug. 24 submission for more details.

"The Every Student Succeeds Act was hailed as the ushering in of a new era of state flexibility," Scott wrote in his letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. "As with all federal partnerships, Florida's expectation is that our state is treated fairly and given full flexibility to provide the greatest return to our students."

Florida officials long have stated they would stick to the state's existing accountability plan, which they say is working, insisting the federal government cannot force change.

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The state did not amend its position on declining to provide tests in languages other than English. It also has held firm to its stance on setting English language proficiency standards for students still learning the language, as well as on how it reports the academic performance of  demographic subgroups.

Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in a recent letter to some of the civil rights activists seeking change that the department had proposed in April  adding English language proficiency as a success indicator. She further noted that the U.S. Education Department had not raised concerns about the testing language, as native language assessments are not required in the law.

FLDOE spokeswoman Meghan Collins said the department is now "just waiting to see what kind of feedback we get from that submission, and we'll go from there."

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Florida remains the only state without an approved Every Student Succeeds Act plan. It has had three plans rejected so far.

Related coverage: Florida stands alone as sole state without federally approved accountability plan 

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