Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Perspective on Race-Based Academic Goals

Florida is continuing to undergo a national fallout from its plans to set academic goals based on race. The goals do not change students' passing scores based on race but sets passing rate goals by race. Although this may not have been the best thing for the Florida Board of Education to do, I do believe some of the outrage is more about initial shock rather than anything else. Naples News columnist Brent Batten and some Collier County district officials feel the same way. 

Much ado is being made of a recent Florida State Board of Education plan that sets out different goals for different ethnic groups.
According to top Collier County education officials, it's much ado about nothing.
Stories running under headlines such as "Florida to measure student goals by race," and "Florida passes plan for racially based academic goals," may have created the perception that different standards are being endorsed for individual students based on race. USA Today ran a story. Gov. Rick Scott weighed in.
But the initial shock isn't warranted, according to Collier School Board members and top administrators who've looked at the state board's plan, passed at its meeting last week.
What it did, rather than setting different passing test scores for individuals in different ethnic groups, was recognize that there already exists an achievement gap between those groups.
The goal going forward is to narrow that gap, said Collier School Board memberBarbara Berry. "When you read that article, it's kind of like taking a sledgehammer and hitting you between the eyes unless you see how scores were reported in the past," Berry said. "Subgroups are reported, have been reported. You are interested in where the groups fall and narrowing the gap."
For example, statewide 68 percent of white students scored 3 or above on the FCAT reading test for the 2011-2012 school year. For black students, the number was 37 percent and for Hispanic students it was 52 percent.
The proficiency score of 3 isn't different for any of the races and it won't be under the new plan.
The state plan sets targets for the number of passing students going forward and those numbers are different for each race group.
The goal is for 88 percent of white students, 74 percent of black students and 81 percent of Hispanic students to meet the proficiency grade by 2018.
Collier School Board member Roy Terry said he can understand why people might be startled hearing about the state plan for the first time. "When you look at what the state put out, it looks like different grade levels for each race. It was poor communication by the state Department of Education, in my opinion."
Like Berry, he said he supports efforts to recognize and narrow the achievement gap. "We've always had goals. The percent of black students reading at grade level should increase by a certain percentage," Terry said.
While the state's targets in its strategic plans are new, recognition of achievement gaps between ethnic groups are not. Efforts to erase them date back at least to the George W. Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind initiative of 2001, which carried the legislative title, "An Act to Close the Achievement Gap..."
Many in the public do not understand that race was always a factor in No Child Left Behind, and that this is merely the state's admission that the goals therein are unattainable. The bill calls for 100% proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Recognizing that this goal is impossible and realizing that the performance of some subgroups (a NCLB term and not mine) are better than others, the state thought it best to set goals based on how the groups are performing today. 

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