Boys in Florida lag behind girls in basic English language proficiency in elementary and middle school but, according to new research from the Helios Education Foundation, there is hope to close the gap.
Helios Education Foundation and WestEd research shows the gap is greatest among Black boys, of whom only 30% demonstrate basic English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency by sixth grade. Meanwhile, data from the 2021-22 school year shows Black girls at a 43% proficiency level and White girls at 67%.
Among White boys, proficiency levels differ up to 10 percentage points when compared to girls.
“Our report underscores what we have known for some time, that too many boys and in particular Black boys, often don’t receive the support, opportunities, or encouragement they need to demonstrate proficiency on English Language Arts assessments,” said Khamia Powell, a researcher at WestEd and lead author of the new achievement gap report.
“The strategies we outline in the report focus on how to leverage students’ assets and build learning environments that not only improve student achievement, but also foster students’ growth and development to reduce achievement gaps.”
The study was conducted as part of HB 7033, passed in 2021/ The legislation tasked the Florida Department of Education with convening a group of stakeholders to create the Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys.
The task force’s goal was to examine achievement data and identify evidence-based practices for the department to consider. The task force included parents, district and school leaders, teachers, school psychologists, nonprofits and select members of the Florida Legislature.
“The creation of the Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys was an essential step in tackling achievement gaps and wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of (former) Speaker (Chris) Sprowls to tackle an important, yet difficult topic,” said former Rep. Fred Hawkins, the current President of South Florida State College who served as a task force member.
“The information in this report serves as a launch point for leaders across the state who want to ensure male students live up to their fullest academic potential.”
One of the task force’s recommendations was to conduct a research study documenting achievement trends and identifying best practices at the state, district and school levels to ultimately shed light on challenges creating the achievement gap and ways to bridge it.
The Helios/WestEd study identified several recommendations to do just that.
At the state level, the study found a need to allocate funding to support gender-based achievement initiatives; develop policies that prioritize closing the gap; provide professional development opportunities for educators; and implement effective reporting mechanisms to track progress and outcomes.
For school districts, the report recommends providing comprehensive teacher training programs addressing gender-based achievement disparities, as well as opportunities to showcase schools that have identified successful strategies to narrow or eliminate the gap. The recommendations also say districts should equip educators with data tools and resources to support informed decision-making and action.
For individual schools, the report suggested support for teachers implementing strategies to close the achievement gap, encouraging the use of data to inform instructional curricula and prioritizing positive teacher-student relationships.
Other recommendations broadly include leveraging student diversity as an asset to support teaching and learning and offering additional research-based supports that enhance boys’ learning, confidence and enrichment opportunities.
Further establishing the need to implement these solutions, the Helios/WestEd report found that high school graduation rates reflect gender achievement gaps.
Data shows that 90% or more of female students, regardless of race, graduated high school in the 2020-21 school year, but fewer than 90% of boys of all races graduated that same year. That despite a 97% graduation rate among Asian boys and a 90% graduation rate among White boys. Black male students had the lowest graduation rates, at just 83%.
The report notes that “failure to close these gaps will limit opportunities for students and, more broadly, the strength of the Florida workforce in an increasingly complex economy.”
The Helios Education Foundation supports postsecondary attainment for low-income and underrepresented communities in Arizona and Florida. Its foundation is based on community, equity, investment and partnerships. The foundation has invested approximately $350 million into partnerships and initiatives focused on improving third grade reading, college participation and postsecondary attainment since it began its work in 2006.
WestEd is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development and service agency that partners with education communities nationwide to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning for Americans of all ages.