English-lan­guage learn­ers should be tested in their na­tive tongue

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Alex Bar­rio

There are over 300,000 English Lan­guage Learn­ers (ELL) in Florida public schools. Three out of five are na­tive-born U.S. cit­i­zens. If they made up a city, they would be the fourth­largest in the en­tire state, be­hind only Jack­sonville, Mi­ami, and Tampa and just ahead of Or­lando.

Th­ese stu­dents come from all over the world for a wide va­ri­ety of rea­sons. Some are part of fam­i­lies flee­ing per­se­cu­tion in Venezuela while oth­ers are leav­ing harsh liv­ing con­di­tions in Haiti and Brazil. Oth­ers are the chil­dren of en­trepreneur­s from China or sur­vivors of Hur­ri­cane Maria from Puerto Rico.

Re­gard­less of why they are here in Florida, they should be given the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as stu­dents whose fam­i­lies have been in Florida for gen­er­a­tions.

Un­der the Fed­eral Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act (ESSA), ev­ery state is re­quired to “make ev­ery ef­fort” to pro­vide re­quired ex­ams in lan­guages other than English if needed. In a state like Florida, it should be a no-brainer that ex­ams be of­fered in na­tive lan­guages, at least in the first few years of a stu­dent’s en­roll­ment in a Florida school.

Un­for­tu­nately, Florida’s Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion un­der Gov. Rick Scott pushed for an ex­emp­tion in 2017 that stated English

is Florida’s of­fi­cial lan­guage and thus they should not be re­quired to pro­vide tests in lan­guages other than English.

As a re­sult, thou­sands of stu­dents ev­ery year fail re­quired stan­dard­ized tests be­cause Florida is an “English-only” state. Th­ese stu­dents don’t ad­vance to the next grade, and some­times don’t get a proper high school di­ploma, not be­cause they aren’t pro­fi­cient in the sub­ject mat­ter but sim­ply be­cause they can’t prop­erly read the di­rec­tions or word prob­lems.

Florida al­ready pro­vides vot­ing bal­lots and driv­ing in­struc­tions, among other re­sources, in Span­ish and Haitian-Cre­ole. Thank­fully, this year, a bi­par­ti­san mix of leg­is­la­tors have stepped for­ward to try to solve this ed­u­ca­tion is­sue. SB 678 by Demo­cratic Sen. An­nette Tad­deo and its com­pan­ion, HB 515 by Repub­li­can Rep. Ana Maria Ro­driguez, would grant stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to take their re­quired as­sess­ments in their na­tive lan­guage if they lack full com­mand of the English lan­guage.

Ev­ery year, thou­sands of young peo­ple lose their chance at a brighter fu­ture be­cause of a lack of English com­pe­tency. Let’s do what is right for them this year and fi­nally keep Florida’s prom­ise to lift up all stu­dents.

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Two bills in the state Leg­is­la­ture would grant stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to take their re­quired as­sess­ments in their na­tive lan­guage if they lack full com­mand of the English lan­guage.

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