Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
The Florida Department of Education has touched of a firestorm over its strategic plan that will judge the achievement of public school students in part by race and ethnicity.
The plan, approved by the state Board of Education on Tuesday night, calls for 90% of Asian students to be at or above grade level in reading by 2018. It expects whites to be at 88%, Hispanics at 81% and blacks at 74%.
In math, the board expects 92% of Asian students to be scoring at or above grade level, whites at 86%, Hispanic students at 80% and black students at 74%.
"If Asians can have a goal of 90% in reading, why can't whites, and other subcategories? So I would just ask my fellow board members if we are happy with the signal this sends," said board member John Padget, WTLV/WJXX TV's Kaitlyn Ross reports from Jacksonville.
"All children should be held to high standards and for them to say that for African Americans the goal is below other students is unacceptable," said Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, the Sun-Sentinel reports.
Board members who supported the strategic plan argued that the numbers they are seeking in all categories would be an improvement over current levels, though statistically each racial group is not expected to improve at the same rate.
"I think we need to be realistic in our ability to impact those at the same degree," said board member Kathleen Shanahan.
Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said the disparate numbers are not meant to lower expectations but rather set "realistic and attainable" goals, the Sun-Sentinel reports.
"Of course we want every student to be successful," Etters said. "But we do have to take into account their starting point."
The last strategic plan approved by the state in July did not differentiate between racial or ethnic groups, the newspaper notes.