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Florida's NCLB Waiver Plan Needs More for ELLs, Ed. Dept. Says

To boost its shot at earning a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, Florida has to make major revisions to its proposal, especially when it comes to the state's English-language learners.

That feedback—from a panel of judges selected by the U.S. Department of Education—came to Florida late last month. All 11 states seeking waivers from NCLB requirements received detailed feedback from the judges as part of the peer-review process which has mostly happened out of the public eye despite pledges to the contrary. Michele McNeil at Politics K-12 has followed this process like a hawk. She alerted me to the Florida feedback letter, which Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) reporter Jeff Solochek published on his Gradebook blog.

Minnesota's feedback is also in the public domain, thanks to Minnesota Public Radio, but none of the other states' letters from the Ed. Dept. appear to be available for the masses. This state also has some work to do on how it will target interventions for ELLs, according to the judges' feedback.

The judges who read Florida's waiver application singled out what appears to be a lack of significant interaction with stakeholders in the state's English-language-learner world, which I noted in November after first reviewing the proposal. They are asking the state to hand over "more specific information on the steps Florida took to meaningfully engage diverse stakeholders and communities, especially organizations representing English Learners" and how it will continue to interact with those folks as it puts its plan into practice. It appears that Florida consulted only with the state chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

The reviewers also advise Florida to make several other substantial changes or clarifications.

One is that the state needs to better make its case that the achievement of English-language learners, as well as students with disabilities, is fully included in how schools are rated in Florida's grading system. The state needs to ensure that the performance of students like ELLs is not "masked" by its plan to lump students who fall into one of the traditionally low-performing subgroups into one group labeled "lowest-performing 25%."

Finally, the reviewers raise concerns about the state's lack of specificity when it comes to addressing the needs of ELLs in its plans for intervening in low-performing schools and building teacher capacity.

Now we'll have to wait and see how much Florida and the other states revise their waiver proposals based on the feedback. It's encouraging that the reviewers seem to be keeping a sharp eye out for the needs of English learners.

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