By Sharon Fletcher Jones
Historically, African Americans have scored lower on the mathematics, reading, and science portions of the FCAT. However, the recent release of FCAT results by the Florida Department of Education gave cause for celebration as student performance at Achievement Level 3 and above increased in every grade tested. African-American students showed the most gains with a 10 percentage increase for first-time test takers. Overall, thirty-three percent of Florida’s students scored level 4 or higher on the Algebra 1 end-of-course assessments indicating high achievement and the potential for college readiness.
The percentage of first-time Geometry test takers scoring at Achievement Level 3 and above increased for each subgroup. Again, African-American students with a 10 percentage point increase showed the most gains. African-American students also led the way scoring nine percentage points above last year in first-time test takers scoring at Achievement Level 3 in Biology.
While, the percentage of students scoring at Achievement Level 4 increased across all subgroups, results of FCAT 2.0 Reading indicated African-American students made the most significant improvements. Additionally, state-wide Science FCAT 2.0 scores increased by one percentage point after the application of new standards.
Indicating there is still much work to be done, Dr. Tony Bennett, Commissioner of Education said, “These results show that where we put our focus is where we see our progress.”
Indeed, Central Florida, organizations such as Take Stock In Children at Valencia and 100 Black Men of Orlando have focused their efforts on mentoring and motivating students with an outstanding level of success and by association have contributed greatly to the very progress of which Dr. Bennett spoke.
Take Stock in Children is a statewide program that serves thirty-six middle schools. The organization matches students with mentors who act as advocates, cheerleaders, and role models. In 2007, the Orlando organization partnered with Orange County Public Middle Schools (Lockhart, Maitland, Howard, and Lee) and students who would later transfer into (Evans) high school. The selected students, according to Executive Director Elisha Gonzalez Bonnewitz, are 7th graders with a minimum 2.5 grade point average, who are receiving reduced lunch and therefore are deemed economically challenged.
Gonzalez added, “These kids are middle of the road, flat line; they don’t have disciplinary issues and they’re not academically advanced. Ninety percent of them are the first in their families to attend college, ninety-six percent of their parents barely passed high school.” For more than eleven years, 100 Black Men of Orlando has targeted students at Jones High School, providing a comprehensive program that includes SAT/ACT preparation, financial literacy, healthcare, and etiquette.
“We’re helping to build well-rounded students and motivate them towards achievement,’ said Ron Rogers, President of 100 Black Men of Orlando. “They are wonderful students who just need a little push in the right direction; they need to be nurtured and cared for,” he added.
Florida Department of Education studies indicate dropouts occur at a higher rate in the ninth grade. “Some students are unable to make the transition from being coddled with seven teachers in middle school to being thrown out to the wolves in high school,” Bonnewitz stated.
Rogers stated, “This is a pivotal moment that, if not seized, a child could ‘fall through the cracks’.” Both Gonzalez and Rogers stated that many of the students they serve would not otherwise have the opportunity to progress towards enrollment in college. “Some of our students don’t get the support needed. They’re held back and generational poverty is perpetuated because (their families) are convinced they (the student) are a resource (usually taking care of other children and/or working) that they can’t afford to lose and therefore, they are not excited about the student leaving for college,” Bonnewitz explained. Rogers indicated that his organization often encounters that same scenario.
Nonetheless, 100 Black Men of Orlando is credited with helping to elevate Jones High School from an ‘F’ school to a ‘B’ school and with providing more than $100,000.00 in scholarships. Among the students who have completed their program is a diplomat, waiting to be sworn in for duty at the State Department. Others have gone on to complete doctorate programs in fields including law and construction technology. After completing Take Stock In Children and enrolling in college, students are awarded a 2+2 Florida prepaid scholarship. By focusing their efforts on those students who might otherwise have become negative statistics, these organizations have clearly impacted the level of their success. Improved FCAT scores speak, in part, to the invaluable work of these organizations and others like them.
For more information about the 100 Black Men of Orlando and their Mentoring Program contact: Ron Rogers, President, 100 Black Men of Orlando, P. O. Box 547683, Orlando, FL 32804, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Take Stock In Children at Valencia contact: Elisha Gonzalez, Executive Director at TakeStockInChildren@valenciacollege.edu, email: email@example.com