Florida student scores hold steady as schools switch testing system

State officials said the new model helps teachers spot student needs faster.
This year marked Florida's first attempt at having students take tests three times throughout the year to determine how they were progressing.
This year marked Florida's first attempt at having students take tests three times throughout the year to determine how they were progressing. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2021) ]
Published June 29|Updated June 29

Florida’s final round of testing this spring showed that students in third grade through high school made significant progress throughout the year in their math and language arts performance.

The percentages of students achieving proficiency did not grow, though, still hovering around 50% to 60%. Gaps remained among demographic groups, as well, with lower percentages of Black students reaching expectations than white or Hispanic students.

It was the state’s first attempt at having students take tests three times throughout the year to determine how they were progressing in their learning of state standards. In the past, students took one exam at the end of the year, with results coming in the summer.

Several local districts conducted their own tests in a process called progress monitoring, but it was not always directly tied to the standards. Many did away with those local efforts as the state added its version.

Paul Burns, Florida’s K-12 education chancellor, said the transition to the new model has been smooth and bodes well for public education.

“It really gives great immediate feedback to the teachers, parents and students so they know where they really are, and the teachers can adjust their instruction throughout the year,” Burns said.

He pointed to large gains in the percentages of students performing where they should be for their grade level from the beginning of the year to the end. For instance, tested students overall showed a 17-point increase in language arts, and a 42-point jump in math since school started last August.

“It’s absolutely incredible when you look at how our kids performed,” Burns said.

However, such increases over the course of the year are to be expected, a fact noted in the state’s report. “As students are more exposed to the content and instruction is adjusted to meet student needs, progress should continue to be made and seen by the end of the year,” the report said.

Local school district leaders said throughout the year that they received questions from parents whose children scored poorly on the first test, before they had learned most of the material. The complaints decreased as the year advanced.

Burns suggested that the outcomes should improve as everyone grows more accustomed to using the real-time mid-year test results to home in on individual student needs. He acknowledged that the statewide percentages of students performing where the state expects them to be for their grade are not yet where they could be. He added that more training on standards and how to teach them are in the works.

“We will never take our focus off the kids. We’ve got to make sure all of our kids have high performance and outcomes,” Burns said.

Statewide, 50% of students were at or above their grade level on the the state’s language arts test, with 56% at that level in math. On the Algebra I end-of-course exam, 53% earned a passing score, and on civics 66% passed.

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The math and language arts scores cannot accurately be compared to past years because the state changed the standards and the tests in 2022-23. The social studies and science tests did not change, so they can be compared.

On civics, the passing rate was down 3 points from a year ago, eighth grade science decreased by 1 point, biology rose by 3 points, and U.S. history dropped by 3 points.

As before, students fall into levels 1 through 5 based on their scores, with Level 5 indicating “mastery” of the material and Level 1 signifying a student “is likely to need substantial support for the next grade.”

The state plans to establish the scores for each of the levels on math and language arts over the summer and fall. It will not issue school grades until after it sets those scores.

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