Editor’s note: The following is a letter written last month by Florida’s new commissioner of education to all of the state’s school superintendents.
At its Oct. 9 meeting the State Board of Education adopted a strategic plan to guide the Florida Department of Education’s work through 2012-18. In reviewing the current status of Florida’s students, the data show that students in certain subgroups are currently achieving less than others.
Our vision and mission is to ensure 100 percent of students achieve at or above grade level. The overall vision of the board, stated clearly in the plan, is that Florida have a world-class education system that engages and prepares all students to be globally competitive for college and careers. This means 100 percent of students scoring at or above grade level in the core subject areas.
The approved plan includes one measure that breaks down student achievement goals by subgroup. The strategic targets established for the six-year period covered by the plan represent a more rapid rate of improvement in the percentage of students proficient in English language arts, science, and mathematics than has ever been experienced in any prior six-year period in the history of this state. For the first time, the plan specifically reports the current proficiency status of specific subgroups and establishes a minimum proficiency target for each of these subgroups over a six-year horizon.
The board determined it was important to know how students are performing in each subgroup since they examined current data that shows an unacceptable student achievement gap. While the six-year target proficiency levels are aggressive, they reflect acknowledgement by the board that none of the demographic subgroups will achieve 100 percent proficiency by the end of this period; however, the board continues to move forward each year with its strategic plan and the gap will be reduced until all subgroups are on grade level by 2022. The state board set higher expectations for the rate of growth in proficiency levels for those subgroups with the lowest percentages of students currently performing at grade level.
This is part of an intentional strategy to challenge our schools to eliminate the achievement gap among subgroups and will be reflected in school accountability policies required by the board during this period. Contrary to some misunderstandings, this plan does not in any way set lower standards for any student or subgroup. It does, however, set expectations for moving those subgroups that are furthest behind toward 100 percent proficiency at an accelerated pace. This is the only way to close the achievement gap and make sure all students can reach grade level proficiency.
While this is a heavy lift, we must not waiver in our commitment to move all students to perform on grade level and I ask for your help in reaching this goal.