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Florida Adopts Academic Achievement Standards Based On Race, Ethnicity, Echoes Virginia

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Just a few weeks after a similar move by Virginia was met with controversy, Florida has also adopted achievement standards based on race and ethnicity.

Approved this week by the Florida Board of Education, the new race-based standards affect all 2.6 million students that attend the state’s 3,629 public schools. The mandate stipulates that by 2018, 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of black students are to be reading at or above grade level. The state also wants 86 percent of white students, 92 percent of Asians, 80 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of blacks to be at or above their math grade level, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The new goals are required under Florida’s waiver from No Child Left Behind. Many expressed skepticism over the race-based targets.

To expect less from one demographic and more from another is just a little off-base,” Juan Lopez, magnet coordinator at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Riviera Beach, told the Palm Beach Post. The school's black student population is about 88 percent. “Our kids, although they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they still have the ability to learn. To dumb down the expectations for one group, that seems a little unfair.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush previously said such measures would send a “devastating message” that black and Hispanic students weren’t as capable as others. Palm Beach County School Board Vice-Chair Debra Robinson tells the Post that she's "somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity."

Florida officials, however, say the opposite, noting that the standards are meant to acknowledge current performance and make a plan for improvement.

According to author and presidential professor emeritus at UCLA Jeannie Oakes, eliminating traditional tracking methods that measure performance based on race is essential to facilitating comparable success among different races.

“Once we put students in groups, we give them very different opportunities to learn — with strong patterns of inequality across teachers, experience, and competence," Oakes says. "There was this pervasive view that Latino and African American kids can’t measure up in a way that more affluent or white kids can and we can’t do anything about it.”

In addition to race, the new achievement standards in Florida also set goals for children with disabilities and those still learning English, in addition to those who come from low-income households.

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