Florida Crushes the Ball on 2009 NAEP Reading

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The NAEP released reading scores for the 2009 Reading exams for both 4th and 8th grade. Florida once again crushed the ball in improving student performance. While the nation’s  4th grade reading scores remained flat, Florida’s scores surged ahead.

In 2007, Florida’s Hispanic students outscored 15 statewide averages for all students on 4th grade reading. Two years later, Florida Hispanics tied or outscored 30 statewide averages. Florida’s Hispanics scored 13 points higher than the statewide average for all students in Arizona in 2009, over a grade level worth of learning (10 points roughly equaling a grade level’s worth of learning).

Arizona had company. Florida’s Hispanic students also outscored or tied the statewide averages for all students in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Florida’s African American students also beat the statewide average for all students in Arizona by a nose. Statistically speaking, this is a tie, but extraordinary nevertheless. In 1998, the average Arizona student scored two grade levels higher than the average Florida African American. Florida’s African American students outscored or tied the statewide scores for eight states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and New Mexico.

Florida’s success in improving academic achievement for disadvantaged students should inspire the rest of the nation to action.  Importantly, Florida’s reading scores also improved markedly for 8th graders, including very large gains among all the disadvantaged student subgroups, including Hispanics, African Americans, students with disabilities and ELL students. More on that later.

Congratulations to Florida students, teachers, school leaders and policymakers. Florida serves as a beacon to the rest of the nation, and should inspire us all to even greater reform efforts. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now. When it comes to education reform…I’LL HAVE WHAT FLORIDA IS HAVING!

UPDATE: I left West Virginia off of the list of states which Florida’s Hispanic students outscore. West Virginia’s score for all students was 215, Florida’s Hispanics scored 223. So, make that 31 states for Florida Hispanic students!

36 Responses to Florida Crushes the Ball on 2009 NAEP Reading

  1. […] Florida aced the test, writes Matthew Ladner. The state’s Hispanic fourth graders did as well or better as all students in 30 states; Florida’s black fourth graders outscored or tied eight statewide averages. The state’s eighth graders also did well, “led by big improvements for all the disadvantaged student subgroups.” Ladner credits Florida’s “try everything” strategy, which includes “parental choice, good standards and assessment, accountability, alternative certification, virtual schooling and social promotion curtailment.” […]

  2. As a Marlin fan — correction, THE Marlin fan, I gotta say that I love the photo.

  3. Patrick says:

    Florida senate just passed an expansion of the Step Up For Students program and a statewide merit pay program. It still has to go through the house but according to the article they are likely to pass there. The house has a bill to make it harder for teachers to earn tenure.


  4. Corey says:

    Have student demographics changed much in Florida over the past decade?

  5. Matthewladner says:


    FRL % went up, percentage of minority students increased.

  6. Ben says:

    As a Detroit Tigers fan, I have to say I like the picture, too (because most of those players are now on my team). Now if Michigan — or better yet Colorado, where I live now — could adopt the Florida strategy with the same results….

  7. […] real long-term winner is still the state of Florida — which, as Matthew Ladner reports on Jay Greene’s blog, not only is boosting student […]

  8. Corey says:

    More relevant to your analysis, have the demographics of Hispanic students changed? E.g. are they more/less likely to be immigrants or children or grandchildren of immigrants, are they more/less likely to be Cuban/Puerto Rican/Mexican/Dominican? Are they more/less likely to be English Language Learners? And so on . . .

  9. matthewladner says:


    The school data do not permit that level of slicing between Hispanic subgroups, but I do know that the Florida Hispanic population that is Cuban trended down with a large influx of Hispanics of Mexican and Central American origin. I assume that there are intergenerational effects in play, but they certainly are not what is driving this. Free and Reduced lunch kids have made large gains, African Americans have made large gains, Anglos have made large gains, children with disabilities have made large gains.

    Even the ELL students in Florida have made large gains, and they are the students most likely to be first generation immigrants (often destitute Cuban and Haitian immigrants).

  10. KL says:

    What do you make of Florida’s relatively high exclusion rates for some subgroups (ie 8th grade ELL students in reading, and the vast majority of those included received accommodations) and the high percentage of students receiving accommodations (ie 8th grade SPED and ELL students in reading)?

  11. matthewladner says:


    Dan Lips and I addressed this question regarding the 2007 NAEP, which you can read on page 9 of this report:

    Click to access Demography%20Defeated.pdf

    I have not yet had a chance to look at the 2009 results with this level of detail.

  12. Bob Calder says:

    @Corey – Yes, Florida has changed over the last ten years. Migrant farm labor has decreased significantly over the last thirty years. Currently, the orange groves are going down like dominoes because of citrus canker. Sugar cane has been harvested by machine for a while (?) and the Haitian and Cuban immigrations dwindled to a trickle (excluding earthquake victims which we don’t know about yet.)

    The joker is “choice” that hardly exists as a significantly detectable statistic.

    Florida has been at the bottom of education funding for k-12 in the nation for a while. We have been doing a lot with little and I wonder how long this kind of stress can be sustained.

    FLorida IS a good example of how far you can go on threats alone. More threats are being prepared in the state capitol, to what end? *sigh*

  13. Matthewladner says:


    You should stop sniffing the teacher union glue. Florida made use of both incentives and sanctions, has one of the best charter school laws in the country, is the nation’s leader in virtual education, has the nation’s largest voucher program and the largest tax credit program, and no telling how many intra and interdistrict transfers.

    Whatever they are spending is adequate to get their Hispanics to outscore 31 statewide averages and their African Americans to outscore 8. I take it that you are a resident of Florida, so you ought to be celebrating rather than crying in your beer.

    Lawmakers should have the interests of the kids as their first, second and third priority. If you want to live in a state that coddles the adults and lets down the kids, you’ve got plenty of other states to choose from.

  14. Matthewladner says:


    I ran the 2007 and 2009 data, and the gains for African American students who were neither ELL nor Special Ed was the same as the overall gain for African American students. The gain for Hispanic students who were neither ELL nor Special Ed was one point less than the overall gain for Hispanics statwide (4 points instead of 5 points).

  15. Bob Calder says:


    I *am* one of those leaders in online education. I teach using a hybrid environment. I was not aware the teacher’s union made up the state spending rankings. Neither am I aware of the incentives – other than the national certification incentive that very few have done. Partially because it was suspended in my district and partially because it is a yawn.

    The so-called school incentive is a sham in that the funds are largely given to schools that are not open to students that are remotely at risk for low achievement. Year after year. Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    So schools that desperately need reading specialists have to get rid of electives in order to pay for them.

    Take a look at Minnesota and Massachusetts results on PISA if you want to look at something effective. I won’t speculate on what you are sniffing.

  16. Matthewladner says:


    They do indeed make up state spending rankings, which is why there are 8 states running around claiming to be 49th in spending at any given time.

    If some schools in Florida had to eliminate electives to get their kids to read, ummmmm, why should I feel outrage about this? Should I feel good about illiterate kids taking music and art classes? Personally, I feel better about the long term prospects for kids learning about music and art when they know how to read.

  17. Bob Calder says:


    Public Policy Institute:
    Florida is 48

    What is important is that the methodology be consistent. Using the Goldwater Institute (and not citing) isn’t a good way to make headway. Their citation of the Census Bureau is an obvious pointer.

    I don’t think anyone is asking you to feel outrage. Outrage is silly considering the nature of the “education crisis.” Outrage? Just think twice about investing your persuasive powers in practices that are not proven to actually improve education.

    You SHOULD feel good about kids who can’t read learning about art and music if you understand how learning happens in humans. There is much that is counter-intuitive in science.

    You need to learn something about testing and reading my friend. Math and writing scores at my school are above state average, yet our reading scores among the lowest.

    The folks who make up the tests know what’s wrong. The folks who teach reading not only in our state, but all over the nation know what’s wrong. Our students don’t have the culturally embedded understanding of the material used to test them. They need to watch good movies, they need to learn about art, architecture, music, literature, and history.

    Will any of the things the legislature is doing help? I doubt it because they are focused on getting rid of ineffective teachers and they have no idea whether they actually exist in numbers great enough to affect childrens’ outcomes. No idea. None. Zero.

    Rick Hess dislikes it when teachers whine about “the children.” What he doesn’t get is that they are telling him (in their ear-grating way) he is not thinking about the important thing. He isn’t focused on the problem.

    Education research stinks. That goes for both sides. The intellectual heritage of conservative education reform is so much worse than the old line progressives it’s laughable.

  18. matthewladner says:


    Let’s just assume that Florida is 48th in spending, and also has their Hispanic kids outscoring 31 statewide averages, and their African Americans do as well. This just makes me happier than ever, as it once again dispels this fatalistic nonsense about how we can’t expect any improvement until we spend $35,000 per child.

    It seems to me that as a Florida educator, you should be proud of this accomplishment, rather than reciting some absurd litany of cultural helplessness.

  19. Bob Calder says:

    “Absurd litany of cultural helplessness”?????? Goodness! I had no idea either I or my students were helpless. We achieve without charter schools and vouchers. I believe my point was that we find it necessary to acquire background knowledge in appropriate courses you (personally) would deny us.

    We would be ecstatic to see anything near half of your $35,000 per child. The very best private schools in the nation are priced from $15,000 to $25,000 and graduate as close to one hundred percent as possible.

    What is more, they don’t rely on state standards or testing. The entire system depends on how many students are accepted at top research universities.

    Moving the goalposts is a favourite tactic of the conservative. Move away my good man.

  20. matthewladner says:


    Florida’s students are far from helpless- they are making big gains. You on the other hand are yammering incoherently about $25,000 private schools that don’t use tests and how we shouldn’t expect them to know how to read unless they watch good movies.

  21. Bob Calder says:


    Three insults, three strikes.

  22. […] Some other posts of interest are here and here. […]

  23. […] Florida’s celebrated test-score gains caused by the state’s education tax credit program? Maybe. What is certain is that Florida’s […]

  24. C. Smith says:

    I still do not see this great success. Fourth and Eight grade reaing improved. Elementary and middle schools improved enough to get off the Florida “failing list.” We continue to see these same children lose ground in high school. The so called improvement in high school grad rates is a misnomer. All sorts of crafty methods are designed to hide the fact that only 29% of black males graduate from high school in Fl. Where is the success on the back end? There is none as we fail to prepare kids for college classrooms, fail to keep them out of the judicial system (1 in 3 for black males, 1 in 6 for Latino). I see no reason to back pat when it does not equate success for the young adults in high school.

  25. So the vibe I get from some of these comments is that a minority student is helpless and when they finally do something good, there is all this commotion as to “oh my god, how can they do that?” I’m from Florida (Miami-Dade to be exact), I’m Hispanic (no I’m not an immigrant because everyone assumes I am), no I’m not helpless and my parents made sure that I got home everyday, did my homework, no TV until after HW is done (only an hour or so) and went to sleep at a reasonable time. In other words, maybe it has to do with the culture of working hard, since we will always be labeled as “oh those poor people.”

    • Bob Calder says:

      The problem with the entire ed reform movement is that it is mired in a racist mentality. The assumption in the US is that every immigrant population hasn’t been here long enough to acculturate or refuses to do so. You and I know that Cubans are on their 3rd generation. If you examine the way Canada regards their non-caucasian population, they group by generation and find no performance differences after a certain point.

      • I must say you are correct with regards to the ed reform movement and racist mentality. I would say it is more of a hidden ‘racist’ notion (the exact term escapes me), but you are right and I wish that for once people would understand that there is no difference between us only just a descendant line or two. I feel more American than anyone else and my success I attribute to a great American education system, which happened to foster my Cuban heritage and American heritage. There is research that says our schools have a hidden racist mentality, which sometimes halts the improvement of minority children at times.

  26. matthewladner says:


    It is simply too rich for words for you to describe reformers as “racist” when the anti-reform crowd clings so desperately to the notion that poor and minority students cannot learn, or cannot learn unless we spend some entirely unrealistic amount of money. Many opponents of reform effectively hold to a “bell curve” notion of student poverty, with their palms out waiting to be bribed out of their position.

    Words are better-

    In your first post, you attribute your success to your family culture, and in the next to a great American school system. Hopefully you have a great deal of success, and both deserve credit.

    The point of this post is not to diminish the importance of culture, but to celebrate it. Before the reforms, the NAEP scores make it painfully obvious that a great many Florida schools had a culture that failed to emphasize academic achievement.

  27. Bob Calder says:

    Matthew – The culture of Florida is very diverse and developing along unpredictable lines. AND there is nobody tracking it in a worthwhile way. Making pronouncements about the effectiveness of an educational intervention on a particular population is problematic verging on useless covered with futility and topped with a cherry.

    Ethnic/racial tracking only recognizes 4 groups while there are 16 or more groups with significant presence that have influence on outcomes depending on the school district. Each of these groups have different ageing characteristics. None of our agencies does what Canada does by tracking generational differences! You can multiply this by three economic classes – free lunch, reduced lunch, and rich enough to buy a sandwich and the fact that the groups migrate gradually from one school district to another in response to economic forces that act of different income groups.

    The culture of American “you aren’t conservative enough” conservatism is streaked like bacon with racism. Of course they will deny it. That doesn’t make it any less true. The fact that the American Enterprise Institute keeps Charles Murray on staff and the Cato Institute keeps John Milloy on staff are good indicators that the institution of conservative politics is sick.

    My point was that prejudice gets in the way. Florida’s legal environment can’t be proven to have had much effect with regard to innovative schools or innovative education. The economic forces and maturation of immigrant populations are powerful and unmeasured. More significantly, these are essentially different problems from persistent gaps existing in the American cultural landscape. The semantic framing of conservative ed rhetoric attempts to mask this.

  28. matthewladner says:


    Is your theory is that Florida experienced a seismic cultural revolution among White, Hispanic and Black students post 1998 which had nothing to do with the K-12 reforms put in place, but which drove large improvements in NAEP scores?

    If so, what could this X-Factor have been? Mind you, the percentage of children qualifying for a free or reduced lunch increased during this period, and the state brought in a large number of Mexican and Central American immigrants. The percentage of minority students has increased since 1998, and they now compose a majority of the K-12 population.

    Grunge music died out around 1998. Is it possible that this had a beneficial impact on Florida academic achievement that was strangely absent in much of the rest of the country?

  29. Bob Calder says:

    I thought you knew about the holdback problem after all these years and the whole Jeb Bush bullshit thing being plastered all over.

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