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School board votes to update district’s ELL plan; Score to enter program changed

By Staff | Oct 8, 2008

With only three board members present Tuesday night, the Lee County School Board voted 3-0 to update the district’s English Language Learners plan that determines what services students who speak another language in Lee County will receive.

Board Members Elinor Scricca and Jane Kuckel were absent for personal reasons. The remaining three members voted to update a plan that must be revised every three years.

Throughout the updating process the district had to stay aligned to a consent agreement created with the Multicultural Education Training Advocacy Inc. The agreement came from a lawsuit filed by 80 minority groups throughout Florida who claimed the state Board of Education was not providing equal opportunities to English Language Learners or ELL students.

A significant change to the policy was made to the qualifying score needed to enter the ELL program. Students considered for the program have to take a test called the Language Assessment Battery or LAB. While it used to take a score of 61 percent or under to qualify, the new ELL plan has changed that to 32 percent or under.

Some in Lee County were concerned whether the change could prevent students from entering the ELL program. Dr. Sheryl Clarke, director of Intervention Programs, explained that while the percent has changed, those students who require ELL services would not be denied.

“Our action plan will address those students who are still in need of services,” said Clarke. “We don’t just use that criteria, but it is the first we look at.”

She explained that other documents such as the student’s progress, a teacher’s observation or student portfolio will be considered when deciding if a child will enter an ELL program.

“If it is determined that they continue to have difficulties because of a barrier, they will be coded and will be able to receive those services,” said Clarke.

The Multicultural Education Training Advocacy Inc. consent agreement mandates that districts set the qualifying percentage at 32 percent, explained Clarke, but the state offered some flexibility in adhering to the agreement. As a result, the district choose the LAB test and set the bar to 61 percent.

Long-term plans include a transition from the LAB test to the Comprehensive English Language Learners Assessment, she added.

Now the state has stepped in and said that the Lee County School District can no longer use 61 percent.

“The state will no longer let us do that due to the attorney’s discussing criteria within the META (Multicultural Education Training Advocacy Inc.) consent agreement,” said Clarke. “We have no choice in changing that.”

The new ELL plan will last from 2009 to 2012, when a new plan will have to be updated.