This one makes me smile. Maybe even laugh. Senator Stargel wants to study eighth grade reading. She asks why NAEP scores for fourth graders are so much higher in Florida than for eighth graders. Over and over educators have said that if you retain the lowest scoring third graders, they will not be in fourth grade. When they finally do arrive, they will have learned more and be older than fourth graders in other states. Thus, the fourth grade reading scores in Florida will be higher. Only a handful of states retain third graders. It is a classic smoke and mirrors tactic to inflate scores. Yet, I am not sure legislators even think about this.
Wait, there is more. According to the Florida Department of Education reports on the tax credit scholarships, students who struggle the most are more likely to go to private, mostly religious schools. This year there are over 92,000 FTC students. Most students end up leaving the private schools. Only about 18,000 students remain in the FTC program after eighth grade. Could it be that they have not made good progress in these small private schools that do not have certified teachers and are not held to the school grades or other accountability measures that public schools must meet?
Stargel is asking the Department of Education to study states with high performing middle schools to find out what they do. You can read SB 360 here. High performing states, in fact most states, do not offer tax credit scholarships to private schools. At the latest count, I found fourteen. Even states that do offer them do not have nearly the same percentage of participants as Florida.
Which states have high achieving eighth grade NAEP scores: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut. The demographics in those states are very different from the Florida population. They do not have tax credit vouchers. They place a high value on quality education and less value on state accountability programs to promote student learning.
Frankly, I am encouraged that Senator Stargel is asking questions.