The real story: FL students have made big academic strides in FCAT era

Matthew Ladner

Seeking to improve national test scores consistently ranking near the bottom, Florida policymakers and educators created a system of academic standards and the FCAT to test performance against those standards. Despite substantially improving student learning, anti-testing activists have made headlines in recent months with strident arguments. No serious person, whether on the right or the left, should desire to return Florida’s schools to a transparency dark age.

Florida’s academic gains have a critical external source of validation. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has given academic achievement tests to random samples of students for many years. Administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, the NAEP provides a “gold-standard” measurement allowing cross-state comparisons. Education Week conducted a survey of education policy experts in 2006 and found NAEP to be both the most influential education data source and most influential education study. NAEP earned the highest possible score (100) in both categories.

Following the NAEP data back to the days before FCAT, we find the Florida ranked quite low compared to other states. The earliest available state by state exams for 4th and 8th grade reading and math (the main NAEP assessments) from the 1990s reveals that Florida students consistently ranked near the bottom. Florida students ranked 6th from the bottom in both 4th and 8th grade reading achievement, 5th from the bottom in 8th grade math, 10th from the bottom in 4th grade math.

All of these NAEP exams came before the advent of Florida’s standardized testing and other reforms. Tracking the NAEP data across time, however, reveals that Florida students have made progress greater than the national average. Florida students outgained the national average by almost 10% in 8th grade math, and more than 23% in 8th grade math.

The gains achieved by Florida students in reading have been truly extraordinary. Florida’s 4th grade reading progress has been more than three times the national average, and Florida’s 8th grade scores more than twice as large.

A recent problem with the FCAT writing test drew a great deal of attention from FCAT opponents. We should take care not to miss the forest for the trees. NAEP gave a Writing exam in 1998 (just before Florida’s reforms) and again in 2007. Florida students achieved the largest gain of any state and more than three times larger than the national average during this period.

Sadly, leading the nation in writing gains on the highly respected NAEP exam seems to mean little to Florida’s testing opponents.

One of the anti-testing groups seized upon the FCAT writing dispute to proclaim “These abysmal FCAT Writes scores are proof that Tallahassee’s ‘education reforms’ are an unmitigated disaster.”

Against the highly credible NAEP score gains, testing opponents offer up a grab-bag of complaints and recently even a publicity stunt. A college educated testing opponent recently claimed to have taken and failed a test similar to the 10th grade FCAT. Whether this person actually took anything like the FCAT, or actually made in any effort, is unknown but of little consequence. The vast majority of Florida 10th graders did pass the FCAT on their first try last year, and one or more of them may agree to tutor this chap for a reasonable fee.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once stated that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts. Here are some facts: since the advent of testing and reform the nation’s most highly respected measure of academic achievement shows strong gains in Florida. Standardized test scores and graduation rates have both improved substantially since the late 1990s, which means Florida’s citizens and students are getting more of what they want, need and deserve from the public education system today.

Matthew Ladner is Senior Advisor for Policy and Research at the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

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[…] success? I get Florida’s lofty finish, which this new redefinED piece by Matt Ladner helps to explain. Delaware and Maryland someone is going to have to […]

Diane Hanfmann July 28, 2012 - 5:52 pm

YIKES! Matt Ladner ventures out into the public after his award from the National Education Policy Center for shoddy work, with his first award being due to his faulty work with Florida. Hmmm, isn’t his PhD in Political Science? Does he even have a degree in education? Hasn’t he been associated with Milton Friedman’s group and ALEC? Wouldn’t this places him appropriately among those who plan to mine the public schools for profit for adults? Do his children attend school in Florida? No. Does he state that Florida’s Seniors scored below the national average in both Reading and Math in 2009? Only 2 other states of the eleven did so poorly,,and after much exposure to Jeb’s strategies!!!Perhaps the author of this article would be enlightened to read NEPC critique of Mr. Ladner’s stuff, especially since he thinks school grades play a role in something good.
they are good for luring business and residents but that was not thier job.

Diane Hanfmann July 28, 2012 - 5:57 pm

Ed. it is mandatory to include that Florida was one of three states of eleven whose Seniors performed below the national avaerage in Reading AND Math on the 2009 NAEP. Your attempt at shining crappy results has been foiled. Recall as well that these students had been subjected to Jeb bologna for many years to get to sub par performance. Someone must inject the truth here so I did.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner July 29, 2012 - 9:40 pm

Ms. Hanfmann-

As I have explained before, we have no trend data for state level NAEP data at the 12th grade level. Trends in AP, graduation rates and FCAT data give us reason to suspect that if we did have such data, it would have looked worse in the past than it did in 2009. Florida has a considerably higher percentage of free and reduced lunch students than the other states that participated in the one 12th grade sample, and was the only state with a majority-minority student population to do so.

As for NEPC, I am still celebrating their award after successfully campaigning for it:

Diane Hanfmann August 3, 2012 - 7:01 am

OOPS, Mr. Ladner,
You broke your own right wing broken rule of disallowing SES to be part of looking at static achievement measures. Jeb would be ashamed.

Diane Hanfmann August 3, 2012 - 6:49 am

Mr. Ladner,
I have collected and analyzed FCAT data for numerous years. I have data which puts your statements in challenge as to the miracles only one who earns, “If I say it enough, will it still be untrue” award might note.
Your excuse for failing to disclose the poor outcome of Florida’s Seniors falls short and it has been a conscious choice to be mum. Informing folks of where Florida students end is important info. The pitiful performance of Florida’s Seniors after so many years of Jebucation shows why states should not follow this path. Where is your comment as to the number of A schools while performance was horrendous? I actually brought the issue to the attention of Tally long ago .
Do you have any degree in education? I know your grad work is in political science?

Diane Hanfmann August 3, 2012 - 7:08 am

I fear if the wind blew, Mr. Ladner would translate that into the wonders of our broken accountability system. Having been a part of a state advisory committee due to my non statistician produced data relevant to the horrid learning gains or lack thereof for a segment of Florida’s students, I challenge Mr. Ladner’s two cents.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner August 3, 2012 - 10:14 am

Ms. Hanfmann-

I’m starting to wonder if your FCAT analysis is in Joseph McCarthy’s coat pocket next to his list of 1,000 communist spies, also never to be revealed. It’s a free country, and readers of this blog can choose to lend credence to an unpublished analysis by a comments section lurker. Stanford Professor Eric Hanushek however has published an analysis of NAEP scores in the nation’s most influential education journal. Dr. Hanushek found that Florida students made the second largest NAEP gains in the nation:

Diane August 3, 2012 - 1:48 pm

I know where your credibility lies ( nowhere) and I know you were provided a study long ago by a professor which discredited the A+ Plan. You did nothing. Here is a little something I released today.>

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner August 3, 2012 - 3:29 pm


I’ll just have to soldier on making references to NAEP gains and Stanford studies and whatnot. The burden of graduate training in Political Science and random cyber-stalkings from people paid by the NEA and/or unable to spell the word “their” will continue to weigh heavily upon me. Alas, it is my fate and I cannot escape it.

I will make the best of things, facing the future with a stoic resolve for so long as I am able to drag such a crushing encumberance.

Diane August 3, 2012 - 3:11 pm

Are you referring to the .o32 data? I took it to a researcher who suggested that .1 would be significant. If that is correct, are we talking about nothing and calling it miraculous? I am not. I was also told integrating housing can account for .4SD. I am not an ed researcher and you are not either…but we both know Math. I have been wondering why Jay Greene’s FB page has less than 149 fans and my last look at the combined FB fan base of both of Jeb’s foundations was at 999. The major defeat of SB 6 has a FB fan base of 40,00 still, having lost over 10,000 since the defeat and at its heyday another FB group of opposition had in excess of 80,000. Hmmm. I think I am safe in qualifying this as the support of a tiny amount of folks who getto say alot. Why do you think the vote goes the way it does inFlorida? You attend ALEC. Have you seen the report that ALEC has much influence over Florida ed policies? You don’t live in Florida so why do you hurt the children here? What have they done to you?
Here in the Sunshine State, $tudent$ Fir$t seems to have been offering the chance for gift cards for those who would comment on select blogs. It was a conest made known only to the supersupporters. via email..until someone exposed this attempt at deception. From your viewpoint, was this acceptable?

Diane August 3, 2012 - 4:33 pm

Wow, are you so unable to respond that you attack the spelling of a word? I What is your undergrad degree? What is your appraisal of the above which conflicts with your Ed Next study? Should you again be unable to respond, I will make a simple question for you.
Which do you think is the wish of a child in poverty?

A, Fire my teacher
B. May I have food, clothing, and shelter, pretty please with sugar on top?

Diane August 3, 2012 - 4:46 pm

Correction: Since it appears that Mr. Ladner attacks spelling/typing rather than show an ability to defend his stances from criticism, I find it necessary to clarify the FB page which sprouted to help mobilize against SB 6 years ago has a current fan base of 40,000.
I spell well and type terribly. Although it may be Mr. Ladner’s assessment that my atrocious typing is the fault of my teacher, I know otherwise. I stunk all my life and still do.
My mathematical calculations lead me to the idea that a tiny number of folks support Ladner’s positions even though they become law. I think of the word ALEC, to which Mr. Ladner is no stranger.

Diane August 5, 2012 - 9:46 am

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