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Alachua County student performance drops and gap widens after first year of equity plan

BY LEN CABRERA / SEPTEMBER 2, 2019

In August of 2018, the Alachua County Public School District announced an equity plan with the goal of narrowing the performance gap between white and black students. The county gave itself ten years to “greatly narrow or eliminate” the gap, but things are not looking good after the first year. Data from the 2018-19 school year are now available; Alachua County student performance is down overall in both English and math, and the performance gap also grew in both areas.

The Florida Department of Education Information Portal has test data for five school years, 2014-15 to 2018-19. Student performance is reported as the number of students who score satisfactory (3) or better on their Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) or end of course (EOC) exams. The performance gap between black and white students is the difference between these percentages.

Alachua County’s overall math performance dropped 3 points from 57.4% to 54.3%, while state-wide performance increased from 57.3% to 57.9%, making last year the only year in the available data in which Alachua County did not outperform the state. The performance gap between black and white students in Alachua County also widened slightly, growing 0.4 points from 44.2 to 44.6 points. 

Alachua County’s overall performance in English Language Arts (ELA) only dropped 0.3 points from 56.6% to 56.3%, while state-wide performance increased from 54.2% to 55.4%. The county’s performance gap grew 0.4 points from 44.9 to 45.3 points. 

The School Board’s equity push was spurred by the January 2018 report, “Understanding Racial Inequity in Alachua County,” prepared by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR). The report used data for the 2015-16 school year (see page 12), using “Reading” (English Language Arts) for third graders and FSA Mathematics for eighth graders. For reading, the percentage who scored 3 or better was 74.0% for whites and 27.7% for blacks, an astonishing 46.3 point gap. For math, it was 47.1% for whites and 22.3% for blacks, a 24.8 point gap. 

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Using this limited view of student performance, the 2018-19 results look slightly better for Alachua County than the 2015-16 results. Third grade ELA performance for 2018-19 improved for both whites (77.4%) and blacks (31.6%), and the performance gap narrowed slightly from 2015-16 but is up 0.8 points from 2017-18 and is still disturbingly high. Note that the overall ELA performance gap between whites and hispanics is much smaller, averaging 17 points for the five years of data. 

The 24.8 point math gap for eighth graders in 2015-16 was the smallest performance gap for all grades in the last five years. (This only includes eighth graders taking the FSA exams, not those who take the Algebra I EOC exam.) Math performance gaps are mostly between 40 and 55 points, except for eighth grade, which falls around 30 points. For eighth graders in 2018-19, the gap was 31.8 points: 44.8% of whites scored Level 3 or above, compared to 13.0% of blacks, both worse than 2015-16. Overall, eighth grade math performance has been abysmal, dropping from 40% in 2014-15 to 26.5% in 2018-19. That means three quarters of Alachua County’s eighth graders (who are not in algebra) cannot perform math at grade level.

Reread that last sentence: three quarters of Alachua County’s eighth graders (who are not in algebra) cannot perform math at grade level.

Algebra I presents its own problems. In 2018-19, Alachua County students also did worse in Algebra I than the previous year, dropping from 59.8% scoring 3 or better to 56.1%. (State-wide, 60.0% of students score 3 or better.) Worse, when you look at the scores broken down by grade level, there is a huge disparity between eighth grade and ninth grade: 83.7% vs. 24.2%. (At the state level, these values are 86.4% and 45.9%.) The black-white performance gap in Algebra I more than doubles between eighth and ninth grades, from 16.7 points to 29.8. In ninth grade, only 11.7% of blacks score 3 or better in Algebra I, and only 27% of blacks in Alachua County take Algebra I in eighth grade (compared to 72% of whites).

Our education system is broken. Equity is the least of our worries.

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