Putting Education Reform To The Test

Explaining Florida’s New Race-Based Achievement Goals

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Is Florida setting the bar lower for black and Hispanic students, or higher?

The State Board of Education is taking criticism for a new five-year plan which local school officials say sets lower goals for blacks, Hispanics and other groups than for white or Asian students.

But the plan also asks for more improvement from those same black and Hispanic students than their higher-performing classmates, something supporters say is being overlooked.

The goal is to close the gap between the percentage of white and Asian students scoring at or above grade level on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and the percentage of black and Hispanic students doing so.

Part of the problem is how the Department of Education presented the numbers.

The percentage of students passing state exams is always the most important number — and the new plan does set higher thresholds for Asian and white students.

But it’s possible to argue the new plan asks more of black, Hispanic and other lower-performing groups.

For instance, the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level on the state reading exam must increase by 19 percentage points over the next five years to meet the new state goals. That’s a 27.5 percent increase.

The percentage of black students scoring at or above grade level on the state reading exam must increase by 36 percentage points to meet state goals. That’s a 94.7 percent increase.

The state is seeking similar or larger increases for the percentage of economically disadvantaged, English language learners and students with disabilities.

“That’s certainly not where we want and need to be by any means; but it is leaps and bounds ahead of current growth trajectories,” Amy Wilkins with D.C.-based think tank The Education Trust wrote in defense of the plan. “To meet these goals for Latino and African-American students, schools will have to finally and quite deliberately focus more attention and resources on them.”

Florida has to set different goals for each race, Wilkins writes, because it’s required by the federal Department of Education in exchange for waiving some requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

Other states are also adopting plans that differentiate between racial groups.

The plan has been criticized around the state, a chorus that started in Broward County. Superintendent Robert Runcie wondered why the state would approve a policy that acknowledges the status quo.

“Why do we want to perpetuate what’s going on today?” he said to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “The reality we have today is not the reality that we want to see tomorrow.”

State Board of Education members offered similar critiques before the panel approved the plan.

We’ve put the new state plan into a table so you can see how the goals compare for each group.

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