Florida second in nation for gains in test scores
In order of improvement, the top 10 states are Maryland, Florida, Delaware, Massachusetts, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Arkansas and Virginia. Results were based in large part on student scores on the National Assessement of Educational Progress, typically considered the gold standard for national tests.
(Caveat: Nine states couldn't be included in the ranking because their students didn't participate in NAEP. Those states are: Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakoa, Vermont and Washington State.)
The study comes at an interesting time. There's an intense debate in Florida right now about the value of the state's accountability program - whether the state is testing its students too much and placing too much emphasis on the results. The state has made a number of gains since it implemented former Gov. Jeb Bush's A+ program in 1999. Graduation rates have climbed, NAEP test scores have shot up (until recently) and participation in Advanced Placement courses has improved.
(The biggest critics of the so-called "Florida Model" argue that those gains are the result of the state's class-size amendment, which overlaps with the A+ program.) Also of note is that the study looks at a 19-year time period, which includes many years before Florida ramped up its accountability program.
The study teases out a number of interesting points. Five of the top 10 states for improvement are in the South, leading the authors to consider whether a trend of education "reform" efforts in southern states has had an effect on test scores.
"During the 1990s, governors of several southern states—Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas—provided much of the national leadership for the school accountability effort, as there was a widespread sentiment in the wake of the civil rights movement that steps had to be taken to equalize educational opportunity across racial groups. The results of our study suggest those efforts were at least partially successful."
The authors also consider the effects of money on test scores - did states that invested more money make more gains? Not really. - and whether the gains of the top 10 are simply "catch up." If you start low, isn't it easier to make gains?
"...catch-up theory may help to explain variation among the U.S. states. The correlation between initial performance and rate of growth is a negative 0.58, which indicates that states with lower initial scores had larger gains. For example, students in Mississippi and Louisiana, originally among the lowest scoring, showed some of the most striking improvement. Meanwhile, Iowa and Maine, two of the highest-performing entities in 1992, were among the laggards in subsequent years (see Figure 3). In other words, catch-up theory partially explains the pattern of change within the United States, probably because the barriers to the adoption of existing technologies are much lower within a single country than across national boundaries."
It's also worth pointing out that the study's authors aren't claiming a direct link between improved test scores and any reform efforts.
"There is some hint that those parts of the United States that took school reform the most seriously—Florida and North Carolina, for example—have shown stronger rates of improvement, while states that have steadfastly resisted many school reforms (Iowa and Wisconsin, for instance), are among the nation’s test-score laggards. But the connection between reforms and gains adduced thus far is only anecdotal, not definitive."
The authors also consider comparisons of countries around the world, linking results on a number of tests.
The study, called "Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance," was done by Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance. The authors are Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Standford University; Paul Peterson, director of the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance; and Ludger Woessmann, head of the Department of Human Capital and Innovation at the Ifo Institute at the University of Munich.
See the full study here. (The above link is to the article in Education Next.)