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Gov. Rick Scott visits Miami-Dade high school

Gov. Rick Scott continued his weeklong education listening tour Tuesday in South Florida.

While high-stakes testing dominated his first stop in Jacksonville, the superintendent and teachers in Miami-Dade told Scott about major concerns with accountability rules for English-language learners and students with intellectual disabilities, on top of the amount of testing and tight budgets in schools.

Scott, who plans to run for reelection in 2014, visited Southwest Miami Senior High as part of his tour to gather input from parents, students, teachers, principals and superintendents on how to improve education in Florida.

The governor watched the school’s Sept. 11 memorial and toured several classrooms. His wife, Florida first lady Ann Scott, visited with students while the governor and interim Education Commissioner Pamela Stewart sat down with about a dozen teachers. It was the governor’s first visit to a traditional public school in Miami-Dade.

The teachers were not shy. They gave Scott a copy of their testing schedule and shared their concerns.

“I have a huge concern, a very big concern for kids who are expected to be at par with kids who were [raised] here, were born here, in a year’s time,” said Maria Amor, who heads the department of English as a second language.

“Put me in China with the only accommodation that you’re going to give me extra time to take the test in Chinese and a dictionary in Chinese, I still will not pass it, and it has nothing to do with my intellectual ability,” she said.

Southwest Miami, with about 3,100 students, has earned an ‘A’ from the state for the past two years. It has nearly 500 students who are learning English as a second language and about 500 students in special education classes. Those two groups of students will now be included in the formula for calculating school letter grades under new state rules. Former Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said the changes were needed to apply for a waiver for the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools to make annual progress or face increasingly tough consequences.

Similarly, Agustin Grana, a former Miami-Dade teacher of the year, said he was concerned about accountability rules for his students, who have intellectual disabilities.

“Our school is a community school and comparing it to charter schools or even magnet schools that don’t have the sort of demographics ... troubles me. I’m wondering if he has a plan,” Grana said. “I also have some questions with how my students -- intellectually disabled students -- are assessed. I’m not too comfortable with the test that they’re given.”

Grana’s students take the Florida Alternative Assessment, which is conducted one on one. Teachers often help their students fill in answers. Grana said if student scores on those tests are tied to teacher pay, it could cause temptation for teachers to boost students’ progress, and in turn their own paycheck.

After the hourlong roundtable, Scott told reporters he learned interesting facts -- like how one science teacher spent thousands out of pocket for her classes -- that he would take back to Tallahassee.

He said he and the Department of Education would review the accountability rules for English-language learners and students with disabilities.

“We’ve asked for some additional information, but we’ve got to look at that,” Scott said, noting his daughter has taught students with learning disabilities. “We’re clearly going to look at it. The whole idea with this is to get information and say what should we be focusing on, what can we do to improve.”

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he appreciated the willingness from Scott and the education commissioner to look at those rules.

“It is unfair. It is disparaging to both students and teachers alike, and it does not adequately or accurately depict student achievement gains posted by these students,” Carvalho said.

Last week, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to support changing how schools are graded on the performance of English-language learners.

The other big topic of Carvalho’s discussion with Scott: more education funding in the state budget.

Teachers and students said they were thankful for face time with the governor and hopeful he’d act on their input.

“He listened more than he talked, so we got to be heard,” Amor said.

Later Tuesday, Scott was scheduled to meet with teachers and parents in Boca Raton.