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Florida and Ed. Dept. Continue Face-off on Testing of English-Language Learners

Florida's standoff with the U.S. Department of Education over testing of English-language learners doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.

Florida officials are planning to take legal action against the department this week, according to the Tampa Bay Times, because the state and the feds continue to clash on the question of just when ELLs performance on tests should factor into the state's system for accountability purposes.

"The federal government has placed a grossly unfair burden on Florida's students and heedlessly continues along that path," Pam Stewart, Florida's commissioner of education, told the Times in an email. "Accordingly, we will take legal action against the [Education Department] next week."

Back in August, the Education Department extended the Sunshine State's waiver from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, but didn't greenlight a key part of Florida's request dealing with assessments for English-language learners. Florida had sought to change its waiver to allow English-language learners two years of classroom instruction before they are counted for school accountability purposes, which is consistent with a new state law.

But the feds turned the state down, saying that the NCLB law requires English-language learners to be considered for accountability purposes after they have had at least one year of classroom instruction. The department has refused to budge on this point, even though they have allowed states plenty of leeway when it comes to other aspects of waiver implementation, such as teacher evaluation.

So why legal action now? About a month ago, Stewart, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and Miami-Dade County schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho vowed to the fight the feds, and gave the Education Department 30 days to revise its position on testing of ELLs. They said they would move forward if there wasn't a change in the department's thinking.

Well, the 30 days have now come and gone. And it looks like the Education Department could have a lawsuit on its hands. 

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