FORT WALTON BEACH — Educating children can be a tricky business and that has never been more evident as many, including the governor, criticize the newest course set for Florida students.


FORT WALTON BEACH — Educating children can be a tricky business and that has never been more evident as many, including the governor, criticize the newest course set for Florida students.



Earlier this month, the Florida Board of Education released a Strategic Plan, which set proficiency goals for students over the next six years using several factors including race and ethnicity.



The suggested path came after data showed definite gaps between groups, but the State Board of Education’s assertion has been endlessly criticized since the plan was released Oct. 10.



View where local districts are and where they need to go



View answers to frequently asked questions about the Strategic Plan



Read the State's Strategic Plan



An examination of local student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test 2.0 during 2011-12, illustrates that undeniable differences in performance exist between the subgroups.



Consider reading proficiency in Okaloosa County, for example. During last’s year FCAT 2.0, 74 percent of white students in grades three through ten were considered proficient, while only 48 percent of black students were reading at or above grade level.



A nearly identical gap existed between black and white students in Santa Rosa County and an even larger one in Walton County. The state average fell somewhere between the three local districts.



“Putting emphasis on different groups of children who are not doing well is nothing new,” said Carlene Anderson, the Superintendent of Walton County Schools. “…To say that every child is going to be proficient or better is to not deal with reality.”



The strategic plan, she said, is actually dealing with older legislation handed down in the No Child Left Behind Act, which called for districts to close the achievement gap.



This is just one more step towards that target, she said.



“You have to set goals for students that are realistic,” said Okaloosa County Superintendent Alexis Tibbetts. “There is no quick fix for this.”



It’s not news to anyone in education that discrepancies exist between subgroups whether looking at race or family income levels, both Tibbetts and Anderson said.



“When you see the data every day and you touch the data every day, you realize those subgroups are a tremendous challenge, but on the other side I can see that people who don’t see it every day would be a little chagrined and frustrated… if it looked to them like we were setting one goal of our Caucasian kids and another for our minority kids, but realistically the journey is hard,” Tibbetts said. “We have to start from where we get the students.”



Under the new plan for reading and math proficiency, no group is expected to have a proficiency rate below 70 percent and no group is expected to reach 100 percent, yet. The ultimate goal, according to FLDOE officials, is to have all students at 100 percent proficiency by 2023.



Both Anderson and Tibbetts said they believed their districts could reach the state’s new goals, but that it would take a lot of effort and individualized instruction. And that, not looking at students by ethnicity, is the bigger issue here.



“I applaud efforts to address every child and their needs so they can all have an equal opportunity to succeed to their potential,” Anderson said. “But the thing that we forgot about is funding.”



Mandate after mandate has been handed down in recent years and districts have done what they can to rise to the challenge, but with so many mandates and so little money, future difficulties are looming.



Gone are the days of teaching to the middle. Now a teacher is required to teach to the needs of 20 individual students and it’s going to take more training, and more involvement from people outside the classroom to accomplish.



“We have to educate every student to their highest ability,” Tibbetts said. “And teachers, parents and business partners can join together to meet this goal.”



In Okaloosa County that approach has helped propel struggling students forward as organizations such as Striving For Perfection Ministries and various military groups step in to help fill knowledge gaps.



Group efforts like that, though, will only deal with the discrepancies that already exist.



Instead, Tibbetts said, they need to start at the beginning and encourage all students to attend voluntary-prekindergarten programs.



That, she said, will help level the playing field before the game even begins.