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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida scores up



Na_274992_brac_reportcard Florida students are making strong and persistent gains in reading and math in the early grades, according to the results of a widely respected national test released this morning.

Results from the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called "the nation's report card," show Florida's elementary school students made sizeable jumps in reading and math since the last time the test was given in 2005. The results also show that after years of stagnation, Florida middle schoolers finally gained ground, with a 5-percent increase in the number who can read at or above a basic level. Only Maryland showed a bigger, short-term gain in that area.

In the long term, Florida's results are more dramatic. In 1998, Florida scored five percentage points below the national average, and was wedged between South Carolina and Alabama near the bottom of the state-by-state standings. Only 53 percent of Florida's fourth graders could read at or above a basic level.

This year, according to the latest results, 70 percent of Florida fourth graders can read at basic or above. That puts Florida four points above  the national average, and in a tie at No. 19 with Idaho, Colorado, Wisconsin and Washington.

This year's NAEP test was administered to a statistically representative sample of fourth- and eighth-graders in Florida and nationwide, just a few weeks after Bush left office. Bush may be gone, but the sweeping changes he made to education - including use of the FCAT to grade schools and retain students - remain intact. They also continue to be a source of frustration with teachers and parents.

This morning's results are "another validation that reforms are working," Bush told the Gradebook in an e-mail. "We have gone from the bottom past the middle moving to the top."

Sure, conceded state Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami, a leading critic of Bush's accountability system. But in only two subjects. "Jeb got it half right," Gelber said. "If you measure it, it will be attended to. But the problem is, if you create a system that is so overwhelmingly focused on two things and nothing else, then that's all the system will attend to."

The NAEP results don't reflect how much curriculum has narrowed in Florida, Gelber said. And it doesn't capture how much the system has set "minimal competence" rather than excellence as a goal.

The NAEP test (pronounced "nape") is one of the few national yardsticks that allow states to compare their academic performance with each other, and to gauge progress over time. Many education experts consider it the gold standard when it comes to valid measures of real learning. The New York Times calls it's the "strongest, most well-respected test in the country."

This morning's results will make a splash nationally, too.

The numbers show students making gains across the country, giving supporters of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act their strongest evidence yet that the 5-year-old law is working. Darvin M. Winick, who chairs the bipartisan board that sets policy for the test, said in a press release that the results were "promising."

"Parents and educators should be encouraged," he said. "But achievement gaps remain too large, and are a continuing challenge that demands our full attention."

To see the U.S. Department of Education's press release on NAEP, click here. To see the Florida Department of Education's release, click here.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:23am]


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