Putting Education Reform To The Test

Checking The Claims In The New Ad About Florida Schools

10-16 CheckMark

Matt Carman / Flickr

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to clarify claims about Advanced Placement tests.

This week, the Foundation for Excellence in Education began running a television ad in the Tampa Bay market touting Florida school progress.

The ad serves two purposes: it argues Florida schools are improving, and that improvement is due to annual statewide testing, school grading and other policies promoted by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The ads are tied to the 15th anniversary of Bush’s A+ education plan.

The ad is also part of a public relations campaign defending Common Core math and language arts standards fully adopted by Florida and 44 other states. Bush considers Common Core to be the continuation of the A+ plan and he has been advocating for the standards across the country.

So what does the ad claim? And is it accurate?

“Florida is a top ten state” — This one struck us as odd, because the small print at the bottom of the screen attributes it to the U.S. Department of Education, the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment of Educational Progress — none of whom issue one-to-50 rankings of state education systems.

So we asked the Foundation for Excellence in Education what it referred to. The answer is the 2013 Education Week Quality Counts report card, according to spokesman Allison Aubuchon, which uses a variety of data to evaluate state education systems.

Florida was a top ten state in 2013 — sixth overall, according to Education Week.

Education Week did not rank states on its 2014 report cards.

“Graduation rates are up 25 percent” — This is true, but leaves out some context. Since the 2002-2003 school year, Florida’s high school graduation rate has increased to 75.6 percent from 59.2 percent. That’s actually a 27.7 percent increase .

But what’s missing is that Florida’s graduation rate is still among the lowest in the country. Federal data from 2010-2011 school year shows just six states and the District of Columbia had a lower graduation rate than Florida.

Florida’s graduation rate is improving faster than the national average though. Florida’s rate improved by 7.4 percentage points between 2001-2002 and 2010-2011, while the national average improved by 5.6 percentage points.

“300 percent more students are taking and passing AP exams” — The ad doesn’t specify a time frame — on a long enough scale lots of things increase by 300 percent — but it’s pretty clear more Florida students are taking and passing AP exams.

UPDATE: The Foundation for Excellence in Education provided the data used for its claims. In 1999, 34,607 Florida students took an AP exam. By 2012, 170,080 students took an AP exam — a 391 percent increase

Likewise, in 1999 32,775 Florida students earned a 3 or higher on an AP exam. That number increased to 136,265 by 2012 — a 316 percent increase.

The College Board verified the foundation’s figures.

The AP’s most recent “Report to the Nation” has some more context.

The percentage of Florida seniors graduating having taking an AP exam has increased by about 146 percent, to 80,175 from 32,566, since the AP began the Report to the Nation a decade ago. The percentage of seniors graduating having passed an AP exam with a score of 3 or higher is up 111 percent in the same period, to 41,149 from 19,452.

Data from 1998 shows 37,034 students took an AP exam, and 56.2 percent of those earned a passing score of 3 or higher.

The blog Integrity in Education takes on some of the other claims in the ad, and adds some additional information about the positive scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress cited by the ad.


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