UnidosUS: Florida Sets Minority Students Back in Effort to Skirt Federal Compliance on ESSA

WASHINGTON, DC—In a telephonic press briefing held today, UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza) and education experts expressed alarm over recent efforts by Florida Department of Education officials to skirt important mandates required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as it relates to English learner students and Latino students. Florida’s ESSA plan provides a striking contrast to the fundamental values of the law, opting to impede the progress of the more than 200,000 English learner students in the state’s public school system.

Education advocates outlined specific gaps in Florida’s approved education plan, including an accountability system that fails to track the performance and progress of English language learners and other important student subgroups, as well as its choice to employ the English Language Arts assessments, which has proven to be an inadequate indicator of English proficiency for English learners. Advocates explored the effects of noncompliance for these groups of students long term and how it will impact their road to academic progress.

“In Florida’s final submitted state plan, we saw a complete disregard for the concerns echoed by local stakeholders as it relates to our historically underserved students. There was an absence of substantive changes that would improve outcomes and conditions for our students, especially English learners. As we see it, the state of Florida deliberately chose the path of noncompliance and needs to be held accountable by the US Department of Education to protect the rights of all students under federal law,” said Jared Nordlund, Senior Florida Strategist at UnidosUS.

“It is the belief of Sunshine State TESOL that by not disaggregating student performance, denying ELs access to native-language assessment to demonstrate their knowledge of content, and by not using the English Language Proficiency Assessment standards to measure English language proficiency, the Florida plan falls short in complying with the requirements of ESSA. Not only are we setting barriers for success, but we are also widening the achievement gap between English learners and non-English learners,” said Dr. Arlene Costello, Second Vice President at Sunshine State TESOL.

UnidosUS echoed these concerns in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos regarding the approval of Florida’s ESSA plan. The letter expressed UnidosUS’s strong opposition to the state’s education plan and urged the Department of Education take appropriate steps to hold the state accountable.

For additional information on ESSA and other education issues, please visit progressreport.co.