Local News

State's reading goals criticized

SEBRING - Florida is among a number of states that have set different goals for student achievement based on race and ethnicity. Standardized test scores for black and Hispanic students have trailed the scores of white students for years, but the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, set the goal of having every child on grade level in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year. But Florida is among 32 states that have been able to retain federal funding while setting revised goals with President Barack Obama's approval of waiver requests from NCLB. Now, the Sunshine State has a target goal of having 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of black students to be reading "on grade level" by 2018.
Highlands County School Board Chairman Andy Tuck said Friday it's wrong to set goals based on race. "My goal is that every child be on grade level; race or ethnicity, none of that matters to me. I want every child on grade level," he said. "I don't like the idea of having different races on different percentages. I think every child should have the opportunity to excel in academics." Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said Friday that what are being called "lower targets" are actually a midpoint of a 10-year plan from where students are starting from. "It wasn't a lower set of standards, because at the end of the 10-year period, the expectations were that all students would be proficient, but knowing that certain groups of students came from different starting points, you couldn't expect all of them to be at the same point only five years down the road," she explained. "We never had lower expectations for any student." A Florida 2012 seventh-grade Reading FCAT 2.0 demographic report shows the disparity in achievement with the percentage of students on grade level: 76 percent of Asians were on grade level, whites were at 70 percent, Hispanics 53 percent and black students 38 percent. The percentages of seventh-grade students on grade level in reading in Highlands County are as follows: Asian, 93 percent; white, 60 percent; Hispanic, 48 percent; and black, 30 percent. A recent NBC News report stated some educators believe race-based targets focus attention on the reality that for generations, education hasn't been equal for kids of different races. They say these targets help get resources to those who need them most. After the State Board of Education set the student achievement targets in October, Gov. Rick Scott called on the board to revise the education plan so it clearly states that all students can perform well regardless of their race or background. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said such systems would send a "devastating message" that black and Hispanic youngsters weren't as capable as others. Florida's waiver on No Child Left Behind requires changes to the state's school accountability grading plan so that it includes more students with disabilities and more students who are learning English.

mvalero@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5826