Florida students had some of the nation’s largest gains between 2003 and 2011 on a key national standardized test, according to a new analysis by Education Sector, a nonpartisan policy research group.
The analysis tracked fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the model test for comparing student performance across state lines. The purpose was to check differences in student gains now that states have been released from some federal No Child Left Behind law requirements — as Florida has been.
Overall, the improvement in Florida student scores was the equivalent of more than half a year’s worth of learning averaged over the four subjects tested during the eight-year period. Twelve states and the District of Columbia showed more improvement than Florida.
But Florida’s improvement ranked eighth nationally for students who qualify for the federal free and reduced price lunch program, an often-used proxy for poverty. Those students’ scores improved by the equivalent of a full year’s worth of learning for each of the four subjects tested over the period studied.
Those results place Florida among what Education Sector authors John Chubb and Constance Clark call “high-performing states.” And the authors say those high-performing states share some common policies: They set high expectations, have developed their own systems to measure school performance and assist low-performing schools and are trying to measure and support effective teaching and leadership.
The authors caution against crediting any single policy for the gains, but write “student achievement is rapidly diverging at the state level and public policy is probably playing a key role.”
Most of the states have adopted academic standards intended to ensure high school graduates are ready for college-level work or to land a job with a salary which could support a family. Most often, those states have adopted the Common Core State Standards.
Interestingly, all of Education Sector’s top-performing states are members of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two groups designing new tests to measure whether students are meeting Common Core standards. Chubb and Clark argue that might make it more likely those states can agree to set tougher passing scores for the PARCC exam.
Florida earns specific praise in the Education Sector report for comparing its students to those in the top-performing countries on international tests and for its A-through-F school and district grading system.
“Florida is the pace-setter here,” Chubb and Clark write. “The grades provide understandable measures of school performance for parents, policymakers and schools themselves — and have earned generally high marks from observers.”
Florida is also among states which are using complex statistical formulas to measure how much teachers are affecting their students’ test scores.
But researchers also reminded us that correlation does not equal causation.
“When you say these states that are on the improvement because of ‘X,’ that’s speculation,” said Andy Porter, dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania told Stateline.