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Achievement Gap

Racial gap remains problematic

According to new statistics the racial disparity would not be solved for about another 30 years by current growth rates.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published June 16, 2004

ACHIEVEMENT GAP
The academic divide separating black and white students in Florida classrooms showed little improvement this year. Black students still significantly trail their white counterparts in reading and math.
PINELLAS
Percentage of students reading at or above grade level: Black: 27 White: 61
Percentage scoring at or above grade level in math: Black: 25 White: 64
HILLSBOROUGH
Percentage of students reading at or above grade level: Black: 34 White: 65
Percentage scoring at or above grade level in math: Black: 37 White: 72
STATE
Percentage of students reading at or above grade level: Black: 33 White: 63
Percentage scoring at or above grade level in math: Black: 34 White: 68
Source: Florida Department of Education

The academic achievement gap between white and black students narrowed slightly this year, but it remains wide in the Tampa Bay area and across Florida, according to No Child Left Behind numbers released Tuesday.

At the rate of improvement shown after six years of state accountability and two years of federal regulation, the gap would not disappear for another generation - or about 30 years.

Still, those who are pushing to close it say they are pleased that the new federal law is finally putting the issue in the spotlight. The act requires school districts to identify how minority students and other "subgroups" are performing, a departure from decades in which minority performance was obscured by schoolwide numbers that lumped all students together.

"It's still distressing to see that not much change has occurred," said Adelle Jemison, a prominent figure in the Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students, a St. Petersburg group that is pushing educators to address the gap.

Statewide, the percentage of black students passing the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test improved by two points while the performance of white students stayed the same. Thus, black students gained but still remained 32 points behind their white classmates.

Only 33 percent of black students passed the reading FCAT compared with 63 percent of whites. A similar divide exists with math scores.

Meanwhile, the racial gap in the state's graduation rate widened in 2004. The percentage of black students graduating in four years with a traditional diploma dropped to 50 percent - down one point. Meanwhile, the graduation rate for white students improved by two points to 75 percent.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, where the gap is most prominent in the Tampa Bay area, reported similar results.

"I guess there are those who feel great about that 1 percentage change," Jemison said. "I think it gives us grounds for continuing to pursue these issues as we have been doing."

Scholars say the gap has many causes, including a shortage of black parents willing to become involved in their children's education and a tendency of many teachers to expect less of black students.

The Concerned Organizations group met last month with the Pinellas School Board to discuss how the two groups could address the problem. A followup meeting is scheduled this morning at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S in St. Petersburg.

School Board member Mary Brown and selected school district administrators are scheduled to speak to the Concerned Organizations group and guests at 9:30 a.m.

[Last modified June 16, 2004, 01:00:39]


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