Florida students continue to struggle on tests that many consider to be key predictors of success in college.
Results released Tuesday showed a mixed bag for Florida students on the SAT, with scores that continue to fall below the national average. Meanwhile, the latest ACT results also show scores below the national average — and falling for at least the fourth straight year.
"These scores are a barometer of what's happening overall with our education system," said state Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg, a member of the House Schools and Learning Council. "Our goal ought to be close to the average or above it."
"I don't see any cause for concern," countered T. Willard Fair, chairman of the state Board of Education, pointing to Florida's progress on other standardized tests.
"If we keep working at it and working at it and working at it, we'll get it right."
More and more colleges are making the SAT and ACT optional for admissions. But in Florida, those tests matter more than ever.
Beginning in the 2009-2010 school year, they'll be rolled into the state's formula for grading high schools, which is now based solely on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
FCAT critics cheered when the Legislature mandated that other academic indicators be included in the grading system. But the latest scores suggest the majority of high schools — which continue to post subpar scores on the FCAT — will have their hands even more full.
"That probably will give them some heartburn," Heller said.
On this year's SAT, average Florida scores dipped one point in reading, ticked up one in math and crept up two in writing. But Florida students continue to score well below their peers nationwide.
Average national scores remained steady at 502 in reading, 515 in math and 494 in writing. Florida scores came in at 496, 497 and 481, respectively.
The College Board, which administers the SAT, does not offer state-by-state comparisons.
But on the ACT, Florida ranks 48th in average composite scores, according to results released two weeks ago.
State education officials say middling scores on both tests are tempered by an increase in the number of students taking the test. A total of 98,578 students took the SAT last year, up 1.2 percent from last year, while 93,884 took the ACT, up about 15 percent.
State officials hope that push for higher expectations will eventually translate into higher scores.
Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith also noted Tuesday that black and Hispanic students in Florida scored higher than their national counterparts.
"While I am highly encouraged by this trend," he said in a written statement, "we must continue to emphasize the need for increased access to rigorous course work to ensure that our students are prepared for the challenges ahead."
Ron Matus can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8873.