English-language learners should be tested in their native tongue
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.
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.