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Dear Ed Trust, Which States Really Are Closing the Achievement Gap?

• Patricia Levesque

Dear Friends,

Today, The Education Trust (Ed Trust) released a report asserting that some states are allowing their accountability systems to mask whether struggling students are improving. The report is based on a limited set of data for only a handful of cherry-picked states and misses the mark when it comes to Florida’s accountability system.

Closing the achievement gap in education is one of the most critical challenges our nation faces today, and the stakes could not be higher. The Foundation for Excellence in Education and Education Trust share a commitment to level the playing field so all students have opportunity to succeed in life through access to great schools with great teachers.

There is broad consensus that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) helped to shine the light on the achievement gap. When NCLB was passed the vast majority of states could not identify the growth of individual students. However, thanks to NCLB, today state accountability systems now show the state of learning of each individual student regardless of race, family income, or ethnicity. The best way to close the academic achievement gap between students is to focus on individual levels of learning – not a student’s race or socio-economic status. This should be the focus of accountability discussions today.

Dear Ed Trust, Which States Really Are Closing the Achievement Gap

Florida is one of the few states that is effectively narrowing the achievement gap, due to a focused grading system that holds schools accountable for all students, specifically those struggling the most, which often include minority students. Ed Trust said as much in “Gauging the Gaps: A Deeper Look at Student Achievement,” which analyzed NAEP trend data and found Florida to be one of only five states with “much better track records than others concerning equity and achievement for all.’’

The reason is because Florida’s accountability system places a significant emphasis on the performance of the lowest performing 25 percent of all students – regardless of race. This approach is extremely effective because, while every school may not have enough black, Hispanic, disabled, low-income or English language learning students to form a subgroup under the NCLB model, every school always has a lowest performing 25 percent that need attention, intervention and help. This model ensures that every school focuses its time, energy, attention and resources on the children within its own school who need the most help. The results are undeniable.

Our approach in Florida has proven to work based on actual student results, including substantive narrowing of achievement gaps.

  • Narrowing of Achievement Gap: The most recent data on the Nation’s Report Card (NAEP) shows that between 2011 and 2013, Florida was the only state in the nation to narrow the achievement gap between white and black students in fourth and eighth-grade reading and math. Low-income Hispanic fourth-grade students performed equal to or better than the average student in 20 states and DC on the 2013 NAEP reading test.
  • Florida Minority Students Outperforming the Nation: In 2013, Florida outperformed the national average in every subgroup for fourth-grade reading.
    • Florida’s fourth-grade low-income readers rank first in the nation in reading.
    • Florida’s black fourth-grade students outperform their peers nationally by more than half a grade level in reading.
    • Hispanic fourth-grade students outperform the average student in 38 states and their peers by almost two full grade levels, according to NAEP reading test.
    • Low-income Hispanic fourth-grade student achievement improved more than one grade level from 2003-2013 according to the 2013 NAEP reading test.
    • Florida’s eighth-grade black students rank 7th nationally in reading and are tied with two other states for 11th in eighth-grade math.
  • Surge in Graduation Rates: Since 1999, graduation rates for Hispanics have increased 28 percentage points to 75 percent, and rates for black students have increased 23 points to 65 percent. This is despite increasingly rigorous graduation requirements.

Make no mistake, there is additional work to be done in Florida to close the achievement gap. But, the results speak for themselves – transparent, strong accountability systems like Florida’s A-F school grading can and do make a difference. But we must build on this model and continue strengthening these systems to identify struggling students and help them succeed.


PL Signature

Patricia Levesque
Chief Executive Officer
Foundation for Excellence in Education

About the author

Patricia Levesque @levesquepat

Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at