“This is going to be a very positive thing,” Pinellas County school board member Linda Lerner said. “Language is one issue, but the other is that some students have had a very sporadic education and some may be in seventh grade and they’ve only gone to school two years on a regular basis.”

Under state law, ELL students have to take the standardized reading tests unless they have been in the country less than one year and a majority of the student’s ELL committee determines an exemption is appropriate. However, even exempt ELL students have to take the state’s Comprehensive English Language Learning Assessment, and the writing, math and science standardized tests, no matter how long they have received ELL instruction, said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.

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There are few students in the district who haven’t received a consistent education in some language, Karac said. However, the more than 6,000 Pinellas students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program speak more than 90 different languages. A study by the University of South Florida in 2002 found that most of the Mexican students in Pinellas, particularly Clearwater, come from the Mexican state of Hidalgo and speak an indigenous language. Spanish is not their first language, and many scored higher on English proficiency tests than on Spanish.

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