Florida’s NAEP Scores

(Guest post by Matthew Ladner)

Like Greg, I have also been looking at Florida lately. My interest was prompted by Sol Stern’s notion that we ought to give up on school choice and focus on instructional reforms. In City Journal’s debate on Sol’s article, I and others essentially argued that we could walk and chew gum at the same time, pushing both incentive and instruction based reforms. Florida under Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist in fact did this, and the results are breathtaking.

In 1998, the year Bush won election, a stunning 47 percent of Florida fourth-graders scored “below basic” on the NAEP reading test, meaning they couldn’t read at grade level. By 2007, 70 percent of Florida’s fourth graders scored basic or above — a remarkable improvement in less than 10 years.

Best of all, improvements among Hispanic and African-American students helped to drive the overall results. Florida’s Hispanic students now have the second-highest reading scores in the nation; and African-Americans score fourth-highest when compared to their peers. Both groups have a great deal of momentum on their side.

The average Florida Hispanic student score on NAEP 4th grade reading tests (conducted in English mind you) is now higher than the overall average scores of all students in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Florida’s African Americans outscore the statewide average for Louisiana and Mississippi, and are within striking distance of several of these others.

Free and Reduced lunch eligible Hispanics in fact outscore the average for all students among some of these states, including California.

I can’t tell you precisely how much of these gains can be attributed to testing and other such reforms, and how much to choice and other incentive based reforms. What is very obvious is that some of these gains are the result of choice- that much is clear from Jay’s study, Greg’s new study, and from the Urban Institute study. There are also a number of states that have instituted testing and have flat NAEP scores.

The lesson of this is clear- far from being in competition with each other, tough minded testing and choice reforms are quite complimentary to each other.

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6 Responses to Florida’s NAEP Scores

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Thanks for plugging my post, Matt! I’ve always thought accountability testing and school choice were complementary – a sizeable minority of parents seem to be convinced that testing is bad for their kids, because it narrows the curriculum or for whatever reason. Well, if the government is going to run a school system, it has to have some sort of policy, and it ought to pursue the policy that’s best for the majority of kids – and the evidence shows rigorious accountability is best for most kids. But I have no trouble believing that what works for most kids isn’t the best for every particular kid. That’s all the more reason to provide school choice – and to stay away from testing mandates in choice programs!

  2. Diane Hanfmann says:

    Too bad the public buys into the deceptive A+ plan. Not only does it mask poor growth in school with high rates of proficiency (perfect environment to hide dumbing down),
    it leads the uninformed public that an A school is excellent. It is very possible that many lower graded schools make greater learning gains than an A school. It is nearly worthless since the grade cannot be associated with a set result. Value added would have been a fairer and more accurate mode of assessing instructional effectivenesss.
    The use of static FCAT scores allows the A+ plan results to be skewed by SES factors. Interestingly, data supporting this flaw has been ignored by persons in positions of power. Could the A+ plan actually be a plan appreciated and kept, even with studies showing flaws, so politicians can control education and boast of illusory progress?

  3. matthewladner says:

    There is no doubt that value-added could be an improvement over any state plan, or NCLB. Florida’s NAEP scores show real improvement, however, and FCAT has yet to endure the sort of cut score dropping games and tricks seen in other states.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    Florida’s grading system is semi-value added, isn’t it? If I remember correctly, schools are graded not on the number of kids who are passing, but on the number of kids who are either passing or making progress toward passing. It would be better to use value-added across the board, but how many other states use value-added at all?

    And as for politicians controlling education, under our government-controlled school monopoly they do that no matter what.

  5. Diane says:

    While Florida has a few ways to qualify for learning gains, The A+ plan cannot call itself value added as it is not. The heavy reliance on the static FCAT score rather than solely a growth measurement skews the results by SES. (Data: Try palmbeach.k12.fl.us followed by searching the school board options until you can find the 11/14 board workshop titled “Bias against Students of Poverty in School Grades and AYP’, Charles Morris’s work on Citizens alliance of Okaloosa County.) The size of change in MDSS would be a far better reflection of instructional effectiveness. The A+ plan uses cutoff scores, which can attract gaming the system.(Read Derek Neal’s Proficiency Countw: Left Behind by Design) I will say one positive about the A+ plan would be the vertical scale .
    Some states use value added systems. Try Tenneessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania and there may be more. Texas and Colorado are moving towards it. Battelle for Kids is a value added website relative to Ohio. There is another value added website called Operation Public Education. William Sanders, basically associated with developing value added metho-
    dology wrote a good paper I faintly recall as being titled “Beyond NCLB” or at least close to that.
    The government is so tied to Florida education. Changes to the accountability system are determined by politicians. Our test is devised by the state.
    The NCLB achievement (proficiency ) data is interesting but to use it as an evaluative measure is foolhardy unless one can dispute the mountains of research tieing SES to achievement. The persons who devised the A+ plan just may have had political goals in mind as it certainly was not to offer a fair or accurate measurement of instructional effectiveness.

  6. Diane Hanfmann says:

    I tire of adding that Florida began a third grade retention policy between the 19998 and 2007 years which Mr. ladner refers to when citing what he calls marvels. Plucking the poor performers from the fourth grade will make them look better. The glory is where????

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