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Florida in Waiver Stand-Off With Ed. Department Over ELL Testing

Written by guest blogger Lesli A. Maxwell. This post first appeared on Learning the Language.

Florida education officials and honchos at the U.S. Department of Education are locked in a staring match over when English-language learners ought to be tested and when their results should count for accountability purposes.

Who will blink first?

Judging from state lawmakers' comments in Jeffrey Solochek's Tampa Bay Times article today, Florida officials won't be buckling under any time soon.

So just what is this staredown all about?

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Educaton Arne Duncan approved a year-long extension of Florida's waiver from portions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

But, along with that approval came the Education Department's stated rejection of a key part of Florida's plan to amend its waiver so that English-language learners who had fewer than two years in a U.S. school would not have to have their test scores factored into school grades. That amendment, in fact, would have brought the state's waiver plan in line with its new law around testing timelines for students still learning English.

Federal law requires ELLs' results on content tests to be used for accountability after such students have been in school for one year.

So while the feds wrote that they do not "approve" of the two-year testing timeline because it flies in the face of the NCLB law, I'm still baffled as to why they would agree to extend the waiver at all when Florida's law is so clearly in conflict with their own. Florida's public schools educate more than a quarter million English-language learners, so we're talking about a lot of students.

The Florida department of education has said very little about how it will advise districts to proceed with this giant conflict between state and federal law.

Today, Joe Follick, a spokesman for the state education department told me: "We are still reviewing their response. We have not changed our position on the need for flexibility that we feel is necessary for our English-language learners."

That sounds a lot like Florida is planning to stick to its guns on what it believes is the right testing policy for ELLs. Will the Education Department do the same and pull the plug on the state's waiver?

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