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Federal Government Says Florida's Education Plan Needs More Work

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States must submit their accountability plans to the Department of Education, which still has a limited oversight role.

In 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into federal law. ESSA passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support. It's a long-term plan that succeeds the No Child Left Behind Act.

It gives states like Florida more latitude in drafting plans for measuring student success, but the federal government has final say.

A majority of state proposals have been OK'd, but Florida's plan is not one of them.

The government has asked for revisions, saying the state fails to include provisions required under the law that deal with testing, English-language learners, and achievement gaps.

Natasha Ushomirsky is a policy director for the Education Trust which advocates for minority students.  She says one significant issue is that Florida’s ESSA plan did not include addressing long-term goals for English language learners.

"The really important thing about that is that it has the potential to focus attention on the progress that these students are making," she said.  "It really captures the fact that for this really vulnerable group of students, it's really important to track both how they're doing in subjects like math and science and language arts, but also to separately look at whether they are making progress toward mastering the English language."

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and more than  a dozen civil rights groups sent a letter to letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in November, urging her to ensure that children receive targeted support and attention. Ushomirsky says they are specifically concerned with how Florida uses its grading system for schools. "A" through "F" grades are currently given to schools based on the whole student population. Civil rights groups want separate data included for minority groups and students with disabilities. 

"Once you give a school an "A," it sends a really strong signal to the school that it's doing a great job and it doesn't have necessarily a whole lot more work to do," she said.  "If that grade is based on how the school is serving each individual group of students rather than just on average there's the real potential here to drive attention and resources to students who have been underserved in our schools for far too long. The good news is that Florida has an opportunity to make some revisions to its plan to make it stronger. We certainly hope that the state takes that opportunity."

The Florida Department of Education says they will resubmit their ESSA plan by Friday, February 16th.

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