Florida's test score gains are real, study says
Another day, another argument about the validity of Florida's academic progress.
Lost in the election news yesterday was a study showing Florida has made real academic gains since 1998. The study, by Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute, analyzes the argument that the state's fourth-grade gains - as demonstrated by both scores on the FCAT and the National Assessment of Educational Progress - are the result of its third-grade retention policy, not true academic achievement.
"Many have cited the series of accountability and choice reforms that Florida adopted between 1998 and 2006, under the leadership of Governor Jeb Bush, as the driving force behind the large and rapid improvement in student achievement. Others have insisted that Florida's NAEP scores do not represent true improvements in student reading achievement. Boston College professor Walter Haney, for example, argues that the scores are "dubious" and "highly misleading."
Not entirely true, says Marcus Winters, author of the study.
"I find that the gains among initial 3rd graders were not as dramatic as those shown on the 4th-grade NAEP, thereby suggesting that the 4th-grade scores did create the appearance of steeper achievement growth than actually took place. Nonetheless, the gains among initial 3rd graders were very substantial, about 0.36 standard deviations between 1998 and 2009, and more than enough to justify Florida's claims that its gains have outpaced those in most other states."
The study is worth reading, particularly given the heated debate that has been going on statewide this year about whether Florida tests its students too much and what, if any, progress has truly resulted from the state's aggressive education policies.
Worth noting, too, in this study is that Winters doesn't give credit to any particular policy for the improvements - not class size, not third-grade retention, not school grades. Class size wasn't in effect for the 2003 class of third-graders. Of the other policies, he says:
"Though each of these policies has been tied to student test-score improvements, either the effect size was too small or the policy affected too few students to alone account for the substantial test-score improvements seen on the NAEP and FCAT."
Winters is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. The Manhattan Institute is considered a conservative think tank. The study was published in Education Next.