It is the expectation of Florida’s Board of Education (BoE) that all children should achieve full proficiency, without any distinction for race or ethnicity.
As Dr. Eric Smith, Florida’s former Commissioner of Education, has ably written: “The expectation for every child in every school must be the same or we will create and perpetuate a system of unequals.” Dr. Smith is unquestionably correct.
Florida’s school accountability system does not treat any student differently based upon race, ethnic group, socioeconomic status, or disability. All students are counted the same. Schools are held accountable for the learning of all students.
Unfortunately, however, a tragic achievement gap persists among different subgroups of students. In order credibly to overcome that gap, the BoE did not lower expectations for any child. It set a 10-year strategic plan that achieves full proficiency for all students in reading and math by 2022.
The board also adopted hard interim targets towards achieving full proficiency for all students. Those targets represent the most ambitious progress ever to be accomplished in the history of Florida.
Florida’s plan, approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, adopted a “cut the achievement gap in half” goal to replace the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirement of “100 percent proficiency by 2014.” NCLB’s “2014 goal,” although well intended and admirable, was no longer credible.
The BoE strategic plan sets interim minimum proficiency goals for each subgroup of students over a six-year period. Higher expectations are established for the rate of growth in the proficiency levels for those subgroups with the lowest percentages of students currently performing at grade level.
The year 2018 was used as a target interim point. It is not a deadline. The BoE, of which I serve as its vice-chair, should have made it clearer that the year 2018 was an interim target date. It is not the final destination.
The column in the chart depicting the goals for the increased percent of students scoring at or above grade level clearly shows that the BoE expects the rate of improvement to be accelerated with the ultimate goal that all students are scoring at or above grade level in the shortest possible timeline.
These gains do not satisfy the board or me, and they will not until all children are proficient, but they are far greater than the current growth trajectories and significantly close the achievement gap.
However, to close completely the achievement gap will require greater effort and commitment from all of us, including the commitment to appropriate sufficient resources to fully fund our productive programs and services.
As Dr. Smith has further stated: “For students who struggle academically and have fallen behind, the expectation should not be lowered, but the effort, strategy, resources and opportunity that we as educators provide should be increased to guarantee each student’s success. The variable isn’t student expectation, it is our effort.”
It cannot be said any better.
Roberto “Bob” Martinez, an attorney, is the vice chair of the Florida Board of Education.