National assessment results bring good news for Florida

Travis Pillow

The latest nationwide assessment of reading and math outcomes brings good news for Florida.

National education results have slipped or stagnated on the two most recent Nation’s Report Cards. In the 2017 results, released this morning, the Sunshine State stood out as an exception. It was the only state to improve significantly in multiple categories.

The state’s eighth-grade scores improved from 2015 in both reading and math. The latter has long been the state’s weak spot.

In reading, Florida’s eighth-grade scores overtook the national average.

Meanwhile, fourth-grade reading, long Florida’s strong suit, scores remained relatively flat.

But the Sunshine State took a step forward in fourth-grade math.

The Urban Institute produced an analysis of student demographics that makes Florida’s results look even better. After controlling for students’ economic and language backgrounds, Florida’s fourth-grade scores lead the nation in both reading and math. Its eight-grade results are slightly less impressive, but it still ranks no. 3 in reading and no. 8 in math. Only Massachusetts, Indiana and New Jersey join it in the top ten on all four yardsticks.

Indeed, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cited her second home as a “bright spot” in an otherwise lackluster year of results.

Speaking at the official release event in Washington, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart attributed Florida’s success to its relentless focus on improving equity, curriculum and instruction in its schools. That includes efforts to address chronic absenteeism and close the “discipline gap” that disproportionately snares children of color.

Of course, experts strongly caution against drawing specific policy conclusions based on these results. Still, some research suggests budget cuts fueled by the Great Recession may have hamstrung the nation’s public schools in recent years. That, arguably, makes Florida’s strides even more noteworthy.

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