JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Data from the Florida Department of Education shows that Black students in Florida are reading at much lower levels than white students.
The data from the 2020-21 school year shows a gap of 29 percentage points between the reading levels of white and Black students across the state. And in Duval, St. Johns and Alachua county school districts, the gap is even wider.
The Florida Department of Education tracks English Language Arts achievement and other subjects for all students and breaks it down by race each year on its website. It shows that in Duval and St. Johns county schools, the gap is even wider than the state average with a 32-point gap.
Alachua County Public Schools has the largest disparity of reading levels between Black and white students in the state, with white students reporting 72 percent achievement and Black students reporting just 25 percent.
In all other area school districts, the gap is below the state average.
An Alachua County Public Schools spokeswoman told me the gap is so wide because the white students are reading at a level above the state average while Black students are reading below the state average.
The district is working to address the reading levels of Black students with a handful of programs including a partnership with the University of Florida that targets early readers in kindergarten through second grade and, the spokesperson said, it is already seeing “dramatic results.”
Read USA CEO Tia Leathers said a lack of reading skills can have drastic consequences later in life.
“The reading level can mean that there are certain jobs, you can’t apply for. Certain levels of life, you just will never get to,” Leathers said. “And as we know, through the research, it could mean jail time. And that’s how they’re building our prisons based on how well you’re reading by a third or fourth grade. So the issue is there’s so many layers to unpack.”
Read USA, a nonprofit based in Jacksonville, is working to help close the reading gap with initiatives like promoting book fairs and peer-to-peer tutoring for fourth graders.
“In our summer project, we had them for five weeks getting this one-to-one tutoring, eight months of gains out of those students. And it’s because it is an actual intervention,” Leathers said. “It’s not just where you’re helping them from time to time in small groups, but taking the time one-to-one, you get to see monster gains in five weeks.”
Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state is putting $289 million of federal COVID-19 relief money towards programs he says will help close learning gaps.