Every day in 8th grade, a special ed teacher would come into our Language Arts classroom and pull two students out for what I only assume was remedial English training. Despite being fully fluent in English and being two of the smartest kids I knew, these friends weren’t expected to get what they needed from a mainstream classroom or perform as well on standardized tests. The assumption was that they just wouldn’t.
Statistically speaking, back then, Hispanic students in Florida fell through the proverbial cracks. In 1998, Florida’s Hispanic students scored 25 points below the average for white students.
That’s when Florida embraced higher standards and increased accountability. The gains achieved since then convincingly dispel some of the greatest education myths of all time — in this case, the myth that you can’t close an achievement gap simply by (gasp!) expecting that students could.
Over the past 15 years, Hispanic students in Florida have achieved the once unthinkable.
Florida eliminated the gap between Hispanic and white students taking and successfully completing AP courses and exams. In fact, in 2013, Hispanic student performance on AP exams exceeded those of their peers. While Hispanic students made up 25 percent of the 2013 graduating class, they accounted for nearly 28 percent of AP exam takers and 31 percent of those who earned a score of 3 or higher.
The increase in the percent of Hispanic students graduating from high school within four years has exceeded that of students as a whole. In 4th grade math, Hispanic students’ average score was among the highest in the nation, and no other states had significantly higher average reading scale scores than Florida’s Hispanic 8th grade students.
These improvements didn’t materialize on their own. They emerged through an unshakable focus on high standards, school accountability, parental choice, and a commitment to rewarding effective teachers.
Even more impressively, the closing of the achievement gap for Hispanic students happened during the least likely time: a period of substantial Hispanic population growth and population influx. While Florida’s population grew by about 18 percent between 2000 and 2010, Florida’s Hispanic population grew by 57 percent. The Hispanic population along the I-4 corridor grew by nearly 60 percent from 2000 to 2009.
The rest of the U.S. (and admittedly, we Floridians, too) can get our chuckles out of Twitter’s famed “Florida Man” and the related spectacles we’re known to make.
But then there’s this: no other state has seen the progress that Florida has had in supporting all students, of all backgrounds, in achieving all that they can. Those headlines aren’t the sexy ones that fulfill the nation’s need for a good laugh. And maybe that’s why so few people know what Florida’s educational system has accomplished in short time.
This lack of awareness about may also contribute to the chorus of critics who oppose the launching of the new Florida Standards. Critics fear what higher standards and new assessments will mean for teachers and students. These fears will hopefully be abated through a greater understanding of how far we’ve come already by expecting, and measuring, more.