New research reveals gender achievement gaps among K-12 students in Florida 

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Black boys lag farther behind other students 

TAMPA, Fla. - Boys in Florida are lagging girls in achieving fundamental English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency throughout elementary and middle school in Florida – and the gap is greatest among Black boys, only 30% of whom demonstrated basic proficiency by sixth grade. Florida high school graduation data also reflect gender gaps, with girls having higher graduation rates than boys. 

That data served as the underpinning for a new research report by Helios Education Foundation and WestEd. The report includes an examination of existing student achievement data and a set of evidence-based strategies and recommendations for action based on a scan of research about the achievement gap.   

“This research brief provides key resources for policymakers, educators, and stakeholders to take informed action to close the gender-based achievement gap,” said Paul J. Luna, Helios Education Foundation president and CEO. “Helios is committed to advancing equitable educational opportunities and ensuring that every student in Florida has the chance to succeed.”  

According to the review of student achievement data, male students significantly lag female students in English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency at the elementary and middle school levels, with the differences ranging up to 10 percentage points in the 2021-2022 school year. The gaps are even wider when a student’s race is considered. For example, just 30% of Black boys in sixth grade scored proficient in the 2021-2022 ELA assessment, compared with 43% of Black girls and 67% of white girls. These achievement gaps persist across other racial and ethnic groups as well, indicating a pressing need for targeted interventions.  

“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 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.” 

State and local schools should take steps to help boys close the gap by implementing evidence-based interventions and promising strategies to improve overall student achievement.  

The research brief identifies four evidence-based strategies that have proven effective in addressing the gender-based achievement gap: 

  • Provide academic support and classroom environments that acknowledge and accommodate the unique learning and developmental assets, differences, and needs of boys.  
  • Focus on building positive teacher-student and school-student relationships. 
  • Offer additional research-based supports that enhance boys’ learning, confidence, and opportunities to learn.  
  • Leverage student diversity as an asset to support teaching and learning. 

Recognizing that action is required at the state, local, and school levels, the research brief also outlines specific recommendations for each: 

  • State   
    • Allocate funding opportunities to support gender-based achievement initiatives. 
    • Develop policies that prioritize closing the gender-based achievement gap. 
    • Provide professional development opportunities for educators. 
    • Implement effective reporting mechanisms to track progress and outcomes. 
  •  Local  
    • Provide comprehensive teacher training programs to address gender-based achievement disparities. 
    • Showcase schools that have successfully implemented promising practices to narrow or eliminate gender-based achievement gaps in literacy. 
    • Equip educators with data tools and resources to support informed decision-making and action. 
  •  School   
    • Ensure that teachers receive the necessary support to implement effective strategies. 
    • Encourage the use of data to inform instructional practices.  
    • Prioritize the establishment of positive teacher-student relationships. 

In 2021, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 7033, which directed the Florida Department of Education to convene a group of stakeholders — the Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys — to examine trend data in achievement and identify evidence-based practices for Department consideration.  

The 13 members of the Task Force included parents, district and school leaders, teachers, a school psychologist, nonprofits, and members of the Florida House and Senate. The Task Force’s work culminated in a final report, with recommendations that included conducting a research study to assess the landscape of gender-based achievement practices.  

Fulfilling one of the task force’s recommendations to conduct a research study documenting trends and promising practices at the state, district, and school levels, the findings shed light on the challenges faced by male students — particularly Black males — and highlight key strategies to bridge the gap.  

Promising efforts are already underway in Florida at both the state and local levels. For example, Pinellas County Schools utilizes data to inform their Annual School Showcase Visits, which highlight schools that have effectively implemented strategies to narrow or eliminate gender-based achievement gaps in literacy.  


About WestEd

WestEd is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development, and service agency that partners with education and other communities throughout the United States and abroad to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning for children, youth, and adults.     

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