In a win for advocates of English-language learners, Florida is allowing students to opt out of taking an annual English proficiency exam that is administered in person.
The state Department of Education also is expanding the window of time for K-12 public-school students to take the test, if they choose to do so.
Jacob Oliva, the chancellor of Florida’s public school system, announced the changes Thursday in a letter to school district superintendents.
Oliva’s decision came after advocacy groups asked state officials to delay what’s known as the ACCESS test, an in-person evaluation that measures English-language learners’ proficiency, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The state education department “highly recommends that all ELL students participate in the ACCESS test,” Oliva wrote, but will “fully respect the decisions that families make should they choose not to send their children to take this assessment.”
Alianza Center, a non-profit organization that advocates for Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics in the state, and LULAC Florida launched a petition earlier this month urging state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to postpone the in-person assessments due to coronavirus safety concerns.
The ACCESS testing window began on Monday and was slated to end on March 19. But the exam now will be offered through May 28 — effectively until the end of the school year in most school districts.
“This is proof of what we can accomplish when our community is united and committed to the safety of our public school students and families,” Alianza Center executive director Johanna López said in a press release issued Friday.
Lopez, who also serves on the Orange County school board, told The News Service of Florida that it was “very important” for the testing window to be expanded and that parents’ choices be respected.
“That’s something that I highly appreciate,” she said in a phone interview Friday.
While the Department of Education is giving students and their families a way out of taking the ACCESS test for now, Oliva emphasized the exam’s importance in gauging English learners’ progress.
“To that end, it is critical that your families be advised that the results of this assessment inform the services their school district provides to their children,” Oliva wrote in Thursday’s email to school superintendents. “Absent these assessment results, their services will lack critical guidance and may fail to address the needs of these students.”
Oliva also directed superintendents to open testing centers in their districts to administer the ACCESS test to English learners who are currently attending school online. His message also told district officials to inform students about safety protocols at testing centers, and to “let them know if you are opening testing facilities on evenings and weekends.”
López said she agrees with Oliva about the exam’s importance, in part because “we can provide more services if we see that that student is not improving in English-language acquisition.”
However, she said giving families options is the right move at this time.
“I think we have to be creative in how we assess our students during this pandemic, because safety comes first,” López said. “We usually think about testing when we think about evaluation, but there are many ways to evaluate a student.”
According to the Department of Education website, Florida has more than 265,000 English-language learner students, who speak more than 300 languages.
López said a conversation with one of her counterparts at LULAC led to a key development in garnering support for the advocacy groups’ petition — offering the online proposal in Spanish as well as English.
“At that moment, we did not have enough information in Spanish,” López said.
She said the advocacy organizations are discussing offering all future communications in languages commonly used by Florida’s English-learning students.
“We’re reaching out to the families whose first language is Spanish. The majority of our ELLs (English-language learners) in Florida speak Spanish, and the second largest group are Haitian,” López said. “We are thinking, every single time that we are trying to educate our community, or asking for any type of initiative, service or program, it would be better for our children to have information in all three languages — English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.”
–Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida
School is for geniuses.
Great job here. It’s got to be pretty tough to get a good paying job when you can’t talk English.
A Concerned Observer says
If I felt compelled to leave the United States and move to some other country that I believed offered more security and a better way of life, I fully expect that it is up to me to learn their language and that I must abide by their customs and laws. It would be up to me to adopt their way of life, not to expect them to adapt to whatever way of life I left behind. I strongly believe we, as a nation, are under no obligation to continue to pander to immigrants, legal or otherwise, to change our country into whatever existed in the country they left behind. This article states “Florida has more than 265,000 English-language learner students, who speak more than 300 languages. “ It is absurd to expect our educational system to further burden itself with this monumental task. If any immigrants wish to live here, they must assimilate into our community. They must learn our language, customs and abide by our laws. Trust me that is the case in any other country. Try moving to China, Mexico or Nicaragua and expect them to adopt to our laws and customs. Anyone that is not a contributing member of our society is a dreg on our society and consumes resources that rightfully belong to citizens that have contributed toward those resources. We do not need any further drain on our already strained economy and public services. What’s next? Do we allow immigrants to drive on the left side of the road because that is what was their custom?
Comments coming from THE STONED AGE. Not even Boomers , Geriatric. The article stated it was temporary due to C19. I agree all should speak American English but its a little different situation right now.The test windows have been expanded and Families can opt out now. Temporarily. Even with kids there is a transition period. My Mother went to Kindergarten and learned the language after only speaking German at home. Picked it up quick. Guess my point is I am in agreement but its not permanent geez SMH
Kind of like TSA was shilled as a “temporary” institution. 20 years later, they’re still here. Go figure.
This won’t be going away. It’s the new normal.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
I cannot digest such stupidity together with supporting ghetto mentality. At 31 years old, dictionary in hand, I learned how to live,, eat, shop, and exist in SPANISH when I VOLUNTARILY moved to Guadalajara Mexico when my ex was accepted into medical school there. I enjoyed learning and try to practice as often as I can years later. America’s official language is ENGLISH – everything from our birth certificates and in between to our death certificates is in ENGLISH . Every word which governs how we live is in ENGLISH.
Mr. Oliva needs to be replaced by someone with intelligence and respect for the country they breathe every drop of air in.