The Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart did a presentation today about testing in Florida’s public schools. Part of her comment about the impact of testing on student achievement in Florida was unsettling, or just plain wrong. In the video of the Education Appropriations Committee meeting today, she said Florida’s children from low-income families tested number one in the country and other groups were in the top 10. It is a rosy view of the situation.
What would have been better to say is that in reading, Florida’s fourth graders are doing well compared to other fourth graders nationally. In fact, the fourth grade students on free and reduced lunch in Florida ranked at the top of similar groups in other states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2013. This is great!
Perhaps the State’s support for reading is paying off. Even the mathematics scores for this free and reduced lunch group of fourth graders rank in the top 15 states. It is curious, however, that all Florida fourth grade students in mathematics score in the middle of the state rankings. Something just is not ringing right.
Legitimate comparisons of scores are not always made. Bad news is not popular. So you have to look beneath the numbers. Florida retains third graders who fail the FCAT. Wouldn’t that make fourth graders look better? Not all states hold back third graders who fail their versions of the FCAT. Since Florida does, we would have to know which other states do to see if it is another example of comparing different groups. This is the subject of a 2012 Education Next article called Florida Defeats the Skeptics.
Possibly fourth grade reading is good news. Here, however, is the rest of the story. In grade 8 reading and mathematics, Florida is in the middle of the pack, sometimes the lower middle. We all want to believe that fourth graders do well. But, some of those fourth graders are now eighth graders. What happened over the past four years to those students? Are they falling behind, or are the numbers for fourth graders abnormally high? Maybe we should make Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics required reading.