Bipartisan Support for UnidosUS’s Native Language Assessments Bill Grows Among Florida Lawmakers

Photo by Raul Vidaurre.

Students come into the public school system with different levels of skills and knowledge.  As such, the state of Florida should know how to assess them in a way that yields accurate data on what they know and what they need to learn. That can be a big challenge when they come into the system as native speakers of a language other than English. Without an accurate assessment, proper student placement is at risk and a teacher is set up to be less effective.

Last moth, UnidosUS’s Florida team worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle to re-introduce a native language assessment bill with state partners LULAC Florida, Sant La Haitian Community Center, Sunshine State TESOL, and the Florida Association for Bilingual Education (FABE) which will help recently arrived students learn English sooner.

The bill, titled Native Language Assessments SB678/HB515 provides for the administration of standardized tests in a student’s native language beginning with Spanish and Haitian Creole. It provides the Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education with duties relating to assessments in native languages.

The bipartisan bill has been co-introduced in the Florida Senate by Sen. Taddeo (D-Miami) and Sen. Flores (R-Miami) and in the Florida House of Representatives by Rep. Rodriguez (R-Miami) and Rep. Aloupis (R-Miami). Current co-sponsors with more expected once Session begins include: Rep. Plasencia (R-Orlando), Rep. Joseph (D-Miami), Rep. Smith (D-Orlando) and Sen. Pizzo (D-Miami), Sen. Cruz (D-Tampa), Sen. Rodriguez (D-Miami) and Sen. Torres (D-Orlando).

Much of the momentum for the bill grew last April when UnidosUS and its state Affiliates and partners traveled to Tallahassee for a Florida Lobby Day in which they met with 49 legislative offices and advocated for Native Language Assessments and supports for English learners (ELs).

Jossie Ramos, a Venezuelan immigrant and mother of two English learners, tells Florida House of Representatives Minority Leader Kionne McGhee why she supports UnidosUS’s native language assessments bill. Photo by Julienne Gage.

“I don’t even have words,” first-time citizen advocate Josie Ramos, a Venezuelan émigré and parent of two ELs told Progress Report halfway through the day. “I never got to do anything like this before.”

Ramos has since become an UnidosUS civic engagement consultant, assisting with voter registration across South Florida.

During this winter’s legislative session, UnidosUS will continue to promote its efforts to pass Native Language Assessment by educating and meeting with legislators and hosting the second annual UnidosUS Advocacy Days on February 4 and 5 with UnidosUS Florida Affiliates and partner organizations.

“SB678 is a commonsense bill that will help students, parents, and teachers better assess how ELs understand subject content. Given that seven out of 10 ELs in Florida are U.S. citizens and that Florida is the largest state without a Native Language Assessment program the future benefits to Florida’s growing global economy will be paid in dividends,” said Jared Nordlund, Florida Senior Strategist, UnidosUS.