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FDOE could reduce hours for ELL certification

By Staff | Dec 2, 2008

The Florida Department of Education is considering a rule change that would significantly decrease the time it takes a teacher to receive a certification to teach English Language Learners or students who are not fluent in English.
Teachers who deal with ELL students currently have to complete a 300-hour certification to learn skills that benefit an estimated 234,000 students across the state. The FDOE may decrease those hours to 60 with the support of a group of trepidated teachers, yet advocate groups believe this would negatively affect instruction.
“The quality of the learning experience depends on the quality of teachers’ expertise,” said Rosa Castro Feinberg, a retired professor from Florida International University. “It is to guarantee to the public that a professional has, in fact, the training needed to perform this given task.”
Standards for ELL certification were originally formulated in 1990 within a “Consent Decree” between the FDOE and a number of advocate groups. During this time, the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a lawsuit against the Florida Board of Education claiming that the state was not providing adequate services for non-fluent students.
Two bills were recently introduced into the Florida Legislature to decrease certification requirements. In 2007 Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed one of them, stating, “I am concerned that this reduction may impede these students’ academic, social and cultural progress.”
In Lee County there are 6,804 students who are considered ELL because of their language skills. Students take a language assessment and qualify depending on their percentile.
In October the Lee County School Board, under direction from the FDOE, approved a new ELL plan that decreased the qualifying student score from 61 percent to 32 percent — perhaps making it difficult for some students to enter the language instruction program.
Dr. Sheryl Clarke, director of Intervention Programs, stressed to the school board in October that the change in the qualifying score would not prevent a child from entering the program if they demonstrated language deficiencies.
The district also decided to use CELLA — an exam that tests a student’s language abilities — as a litmus test of whether students are ready to exit an ELL program. Feinberg said CELLA accurately measures growth in language skill, but test scores can be bundled up and certain deficiencies can be masked.
During state rule hearings earlier this year, Feinberg said the timeline to revise the rules was too rigid and that officials from the “Big Six” counties with the highest ratio of ELL students — Hillsborough, Orange, Osceola, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — were not active in the debating process.
Feinberg and other educators point out that ELL students need specialized instruction and certified teachers to succeed.
“They have a double burden, they don’t only learn what everybody else learns, they have to learn it in their own language,” said Feinberg.
On the other hand, those who support the changes contend that trainings are too long and unjust for teachers who have already satisfied the requirements for a teacher’s license.
Officials from the school district’s Intervention Programs department could not comment on the issue Tuesday afternoon.
Other public hearings on the issue will be held Dec. 12 in Tallahassee and Dec. 15 in Miami. Any changes in ELL requirements will be voted on by the Florida Board of Education at its March 17 meeting.