The Wrong Way to Set Achievement Standards
Education advocates from across the country, present company included, would like to have a word with Florida's State Board of Education, which has apparently decided it's perfectly acceptable to set different achievement standards for students based on their race and ethnicity.
In an attempt to address achievement gaps, the Board's new Strategic Plan breaks down various performance indicators (the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level in English language arts, science and math) by subgroup. But instead of setting a goal of high achievement among all students, the board has set different achievement goals for each subgroup. Currently, the Board is hoping to reach 38% grade level reading proficiency among Black students, 53% among Hispanic students and 69% among White students. By 2018, the Board wants to see 74% of Black/African American students, 81% of Hispanic students and 88% of White students reading at grade level.
It's good to see that Florida’s State Board of Education is no longer content to leave nearly two-thirds of the state’s Black students reading below grade level. It is, however, outrageous to have different goals for children whose skin color or ancestry differs. The only message this disparate policy sends is that the State of Florida believes it's okay to settle for something less than high achievement from all students.
Of course this is nothing new in Florida. A series of biennial reports from the Schott Foundation for Public Education have pointed out that Florida has some of the lowest performing districts in the country for Black students, particularly for Black male students. Others have shown that in some Florida districts, high-need schools receive less funding than low-need schools. Sadly, when it comes to investing in schools, you get what you pay for.
How much progress is Florida making in closing the achievement gap, which is the stated purpose of the Strategic Plan? Let's look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, which is the widely accepted gold standard for student achievement.
In 2002 the achievement gap between Black and White students in Florida was 22% on the Grade 8 Reading NAEP. In 2011 it was 24%. At this rate it will be approaching 30% by 2018. In 2002 14% of Florida’s Black students were at or above Proficient on the Grade 8 NAEP Reading test. In 2011 that percentage was still 14%. If that trend continues, in 2018 the percentage of Black students reading at grade level will be the same as it was sixteen years earlier.
Florida’s State Board of Education needs to set the same high standards for ALL students and make the necessary investments to ensure that ALL students have the resources and opportunities they need to meet those standards.
Read more about FL's acheivement standars here.