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  1. Education

SAT scores still lag in Florida, which means politicians are still failing

The mean score for a Florida student on the SAT last year was 1,014, which was well below the national average of 1,068. Only 35 percent of the state's students reached the benchmark on both portions of the test, which was also below the national average of 47 percent. [iStockphoto.com]
The mean score for a Florida student on the SAT last year was 1,014, which was well below the national average of 1,068. Only 35 percent of the state's students reached the benchmark on both portions of the test, which was also below the national average of 47 percent. [iStockphoto.com]
Published Nov. 9, 2018

When it comes to public education, the Florida Legislature has famously decided that test scores are the ultimate barometer of success and that waiting for better results is not an option.

This is why lawmakers instituted mandatory school turnaround policies — no excuses, no nuance, no extenuating circumstances — that go as far as firing everyone involved if the scores are too low.

Like it or not, that's the law in Florida. And now that the latest SAT scores have been released, the state-dictated ramifications should kick in. To wit:

The Legislature must be fired.

Sorry, folks, we gotta do it. We know you mean well. We know it's not all your fault. But the law is the law, the tests are the tests, and you folks in Tallahassee have had the opportunity to micromanage public schools for years. Decades, even.

This is your responsibility, and these are your policies. That means the SAT results are your cross to bear.

And, darling, they ain't pretty.

Of the states where the great majority of students take the SAT, Florida ranks near the very bottom in terms of producing college-ready students. And it has been that way for at least the last 20 years.

That's a problem. And, if you go by the Legislature's logic, it is inexcusable.

Which might explain why Florida leaders didn't blare the news when the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the SAT, released state-by-state results a couple of weeks ago.

Florida officials love to point out different metrics that say our schools are improving, but there is no better measuring stick than the SAT, which goes nationwide and has been used for generations. Even Florida lawmakers have endorsed it by giving teachers bonuses for their own high school-era scores.

So how did we do on the SAT last year?

Only 35 percent of Florida students taking the SAT passed the benchmarks in both math and reading/writing that indicate a student is prepared for college-level courses.

In case you're wondering, 35 percent won't impress the folks in admissions at Princeton.

Now there is a caveat to these numbers. A greater percentage of students in Florida take the SAT than in most states. That tends to depress the results because it means a lot of non-college-bound students are being tested. Still, it isn't a legitimate excuse.

In Colorado and Connecticut, 100 percent of students take the SAT. And the percentage of students reaching both benchmarks (68 percent and 69 percent) is nearly double Florida's. Among states that test at least three-quarters of their students, Florida's results invariably appear sad and pathetic.

So there are two ways of looking at this:

1. You could point out Florida has a higher-than-average rate of families living near the poverty level, and acknowledge that socioeconomic factors are among the best predictors of standardized test scores. You could also point out Florida has a higher number of students whose first language is not English, which is another indicator of potential testing issues. You could look for solutions along those lines.

2. You could point fingers and demand heads roll.

Since the days of Jeb Bush, Florida politicians have consistently chosen the second option whenever test results come up. They blame teachers and principals. They blame school boards and superintendents. They make knee-jerk decisions that have, arguably, made public schools worse.

And if that's their default setting, then the SAT scores are their responsibility.

They are the ones who dictated curriculum. They are the ones who created policies that have led to an over-reliance on standardized tests. And they are the ones who consistently underfund schools and push tax revenues toward for-profit education groups.

Twenty years of Bush-led reforms, and Florida's high school students are still worse off than comparable states.

That's an entire generation of students who deserved better. And that's a lot of politicians unwilling to admit they are to blame.

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