Petition asks state to postpone in-person testing for English learners over COVID-19 concerns

Orlando Sentinel | by Ginayra Alvarado Villegas | January 13, 2021

Alianza Center together with LULAC Florida this week started a campaign so that the ACCESS for ELLs test administered annually by the Department of Education to English language learners be postponed.

Both groups urge to keep thousands of students away from classrooms where they could be exposed to the coronavirus.

“The goal of both learning English as a second language also has the right to protect their lives and those of their family members and classmates. We urge our districts and the state not to force our students to take the ACCESS test. At this time of the pandemic, we must make the physical and mental health of our students and their families a priority,“ said Johanna López, executive director of the Alianza Center.

The state requires that the exam be administered to all students who learn the English language, in person, during the period that begins on Jan. 25, 2021 and ends on March 19, 2021, according to the virtual petition created by Alianza.

Alianza Center and LULAC understand that by forcing students to go in-person in a room to take the exam, they are being asked to “risk their health as COVID-19 cases increase.”

The petition, which is asking for online signatures, establishes that according to the latest Census by race conducted by the Florida State Department of Education for 2019-2020, English language learners are 91% Hispanic, Black or Asian students.

“Only this particular group of Florida students, who chose to continue their education remotely, must leave the safety of their homes during the peak of this illness to take this test,” states the petition.

The campaign calls on Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to delay standardized tests for students learning English as a second language, waive penalties for students who choose not to participate in in-person exams, and provide greater protection against COVID-19 to those students who show up to take the tests.

According to the statement, the commissioner has the authority to take such actions and they highlight “that providing for said students is a priority, as part of Executive Order No. 20-EO-07.”

The ACCESS for ELL test is used by the Department of Education to measure a student’s English language proficiency and how well they are making progress in their language skills.

“The company that administers this type of exam in Florida insists on testing in person. That leaves approximately 300,000 English learners in Florida, the vast majority of whom are first generation immigrants, anxious about what to do when the testing program begins on January 25,“ the group said in a statement.

Rosa Castro-Feinberg, co-chair of the government and media relations committee for LULAC Florida said that “during the pandemic, the health and safety of our students and the school’s teaching staff must be a priority.” She suggests that the Department of Education must “postpone ACCESS testing until summer months when it might be safer”.

On Thursday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m. López along with School Board members, Alexandria Ayala from Palm Beach County, Rubén Colón from Volusia County, Karen Pérez from Hillsborough County and Teresa Castillo from Osceola County will meet virtually via the Alianza for Progress Facebook page to discuss information related to this topic.

Alianza and LULAC assure that parents of English language learners who have chosen to have their children take classes remotely show genuine concern for their children’s health and their families’ risk of contracting COVID-19 infection.

“Requiring this particular group of students to participate, attend, and take the ACCESS tests beginning in January 2021 will have a disproportionate impact and imminent harm to these students comprised primarily of immigrants and students of color. Alianza Center will continue working to address this unequal treatment of our communities,“ reads the statement.

In the petition, published in English and Spanish, they acknowledge the importance of having English language learners tested each year. However, it highlights a number of factors that could affect students’ test scores.

“English learners have experienced a number of stressors this academic year, including lockdowns, a different variety in their learning modes, family illnesses and educators under stress, and a wide variety of conditions that have, in effect, limited and affected their lives. learning processes. Any standardized test administered under these conditions, including the ACCESS test, will incur a measurement error because the test conditions, unique to students taking the tests as of January 2021, are different than the conditions that prevailed for the students of the normative group with which they are compared“, states the petition.

Those who sign the petition will be joining the call-to-action for the Florida Department of Education to declare that taking the ACCESS exam is not required this year.

“Floridians expect the state to use common sense. That means waiving testing requirements and schedules as needed to ensure a safe environment for all students – including the state’s more than a quarter-million English Learners,” said Castro-Feinberg.

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