The School Board of Miami-Dade County has a history of supporting educational accountability. However, earlier this year the Florida Department of Education initiated rulemaking related to changes in Florida’s Accountability system in order to secure a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education from certain requirements under No Child Left Behind.
A number of those changes unreasonably affected students who are English Language Learners (ELL), including the requirement that children who had been in our schools just one year would have their performance on the reading and math FCAT included in the calculations for school grades. Many educators and advocates across the state raised concerns and the State Board of Education directed that a task force be formed to hear from all involved.
To the great disappointment of many education advocates, though a number of recommendations were developed to provide for the inclusion of ELL students, the former commissioner of education took the position that they would not be acceptable at the federal level and therefore did not include them in his presentation to the State Board. Ultimately, the state’s waiver application was filed with the U.S. Department of Education. However, the concerns raised by many education professionals and parents regarding impacts to ELL students remained unresolved.
In response, earlier this month I brought an agenda item to the School Board raising concerns regarding the impact of this policy and my colleagues voted unanimously to support Superintendent Alberto Carvalho in his continued efforts to challenge and correct this rule in a manner that provides for full accountability but does not unfairly penalize students, teachers or schools, based on an arbitrary and unrealistic timeline.
That is why I was encouraged to hear that the Gov. Rick Scott has indicated that the Department of Education would be reviewing the accountability rules for English Language Learners, as well as those for students with disabilities.
For accountability to be effective, it must be fair and reasonable. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case when our state’s current rule demands that students with less than two years of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction pass grade-level exams that even native speakers struggle through. Such a requirement is neither equitable nor appropriate.
We are committed to accountability and support it as a tool to inform and improve educational outcomes for all students. In order to meet this obligation the state must take a second look at the hastily imposed changes to Florida’s accountability system so that the academic progress of students and the effectiveness of schools may be fairly and reasonably evaluated and judged.
Perla Tabares Hantman is chair of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools board.