Florida Board of Education Sets Goals Based on Race

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[author: Cynthia Augello]

The Florida Board of Education recently voted to set student achievement goals in math and reading based on race and ethnicity, a decision that has received significant criticism as being narrow minded and discriminatory. For more than 10 years Florida has been required to categorize reading and math proficiency levels using racial and ethnic measures in reports to the federal government.[1] However, the current strategy has many worried that the wrong message is being sent to students. Ultimately, the goal is to have reading and math skills at the same level for all students by 2023, regardless of demographic. A waiver granted to Florida under the No Child Left Behind Act, requires that the achievement gap be cut in half by 2018.[2]

The plan “calls for 90% of Asian students to be at or above grade level in reading by 2018. It expects whites to be at 88%, Hispanics at 81% and blacks at 74%. In math, the board expects 92% of Asian students to be scoring at or above grade level, whites at 86%, Hispanic students at 80% and black students at 74%.”[3] Currently, there remains a troubling achievement gap with “38 percent of black students currently read at grade level. That compares with 53 percent of Hispanics, 69 percent of whites and 76 percent of Asians.”[4]

Florida is not the only state to establish achievement metrics based on race. Among the 34 states that created new achievement plans, 26 set targets based on demographic factors.[5] For instance, Virginia has recently been criticized for establishing similar goals. Florida, along with other states, has failed to keep pace with the 2014 goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act, requiring full proficiency in reading and math for all students. Because Florida failed to meet these goals it has been granted a waiver allowing for a new target date of 2023.[6]

Proponents of the strategy claim that it merely addresses “the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers” while acknowledging that “they would have a much higher mountain to climb to meet achievement metrics that were uniform across all racial and ethnic groups.” Others claim that such a policy will only discourage students as it implies that a student’s racial background dictates their achievement levels. The Florida Department of Education states that the policy is not meant to temper expectations but merely acknowledge that not all students will be starting out at the same level.[7]

If your institution has any further questions or concerns about education law related matters, please email Cynthia Augello at caugello@cullenanddykman.com or call her at (516) 357 – 3753. 

A special thanks to Cynthia Thomas, a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for help with this post.


[1] Lizette Alvarez, Florida Officials Defend Racial and Ethnic Learning Goals, N.Y. Times, Oct. 17, 2012, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/education/florida-officials-defend-racial-and-ethnic-learning-goals.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Doug Stanglin, Fla. Education Board OKs Race-Based Academic Plan, USA Today, Oct. 11, 2012, available at http://www.usatoday.com/story/ondeadline/2012/10/11/florida-board-education-race-reading-asians/1626837/.

[4] Lizette Alvarez, Florida Officials Defend Racial and Ethnic Learning Goals, N.Y. Times, Oct. 17, 2012, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/education/florida-officials-defend-racial-and-ethnic-learning-goals.html.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Julia Lawrence, Florida’s Race-Based Academic Goals Bring Controversy, Education News, http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/floridas-race-based-academic-goals-bring-controversy/.

Published In: Administrative Agency Updates, Civil Rights Updates, Education Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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