1. Education

Florida students achieve small gains in national test

Published Nov. 8, 2013

Florida's fourth- and eighth-graders continue to inch upward in math and reading, but their performance compared with students in other states was mixed, according to this year's National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as "the Nation's Report Card."

In the exams — given to about 3,000 students in each of the two grades in every state — fourth-graders in Florida climbed only a couple of points on a 500-point scale since 2011, when NAEP tests were last administered. The gain is considered statistically insignificant.

But they did surpass the national average score, with higher percentages of students in all demographic groups demonstrating "proficient" or "advanced" knowledge in reading and math.

Eighth-graders did have statistically significant growth in their math and reading results, and equaled the national average score in reading. But they fell short of the national average in math.

More work remains to push Florida students to the top of the nation, said Jane Fletcher, director of accountability for the Florida Department of Education. Between 60 and 70 percent of those tested in the state are still at the "basic" and "below basic" levels.

"We should be looking toward proficient and advanced," Fletcher said, referring to the top two achievement levels. But "we need to get them to basic before we can get them to proficient."

The scores represent one of the few measures taken in every state, allowing for comparisons that state exams such as the FCAT do not allow.

Bob Schaeffer of Fair Test, a vocal opponent of high-stakes testing, called the NAEP "one reasonably sound tool to assess overall U.S. academic performance." He noted that it does not carry high stakes, making it less subject to manipulation, and said the test questions are generally better than those on most state exams.

Combined with other pieces of data, Schaeffer said, NAEP helps create a useful "big picture" of education in the country.

That big picture indicates improvement over time, said Jack Buckley, National Center for Education Statistics commissioner. He observed that the results nationally for fourth- and eighth-graders were higher than at any point since the scores came to be in the early 1990s, even though the annual rise was just a point or two.

The average national fourth-grade math score, for instance, was 213 in 1990, 241 in 2011 and 242 in 2013.

"The gains tend to be small," Buckley said, "but over the long run they stack up."

Asked to explain the gains, Buckley demurred.

"NAEP is very good at telling us where we stand," he said. "But it is a study that is not very well designed to tell us why."

He noted that each state has different policies and education models that would influence the results.

As reasons for the gains by Florida students, Fletcher pointed to the state's long record of working to reduce the achievement gap among demographic groups, and aiming to bring up the lowest performers.

"Florida has for a long time been focused on trying to work with all students to move them forward," she said, adding that the state's accountability system helps identify where to pay attention.

Like most states, Florida is implementing Common Core standards, which are touted as one way to make it easier to determine whether students are meeting national and international academic levels. New tests to go with Common Core are expected to give states another way to compare their results.

Buckley said he did not expect the NAEP to go away in the transformation. In fact, he said, the next round of scores could help determine whether Common Core is making a difference.

"If you want to measure change, don't change the measure," he said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 909-4614. Follow him on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at


  1. Pasco County School Board member Alison Crumbley wants her colleagues to take a closer look at making improvements to west-Pasco schools.
    The board plans a workshop before the end of the year.
  2. Tampa resident, Ann Turner Cook and Mike Dermo, vice president of field sales for Gerber Products Co., celebrate Gerber's 80th anniversary at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay in 2008. Times (2008)
    Widely known for appearing on baby-food jars, Cook taught for 26 years before retiring to become a mystery writer.
  3. Hudson High School principal David LaRoche plans to seek election as Pasco County schools superintendent. Courtesy of David LaRoche
    ‘I feel like I have to do this,’ says Dave LaRoche, a 30-year district educator.
  4. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView use ground penetrating radar technology to scan a portion of King High campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, October 23, 2019.  OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  5. The Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    Department of Education attorneys say the lower courts ruled properly in tossing the case.
  6. Pasco County School Buses. Times (2018)
    The School Board also approved a student calendar for 2020-21, with Aug. 10 as the first day of classes.
  7. Enterprise Village in Largo is celebrating 30 years this month. The facility, which provides hands-on education about economics, has served generations of children across the Tampa Bay area. In this photo from Nov. 7, fifth-graders from Safety Harbor Elementary School begin their day at the village. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    More than 400,000 kids in the Tampa Bay region have gone through the program, which offers a hands-on look at the free enterprise system.
  8. Students at Dunedin Elementary welcomed teacher Stephanie Whitaker back to campus the morning after she was named Pinellas Teacher of the Year in February 2012. The 2019-20 winner will be announced Jan. 29 at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Ten finalists have been selected. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  9. Florida dropped one spot to 45th on the National Education Association's annual list of average teacher salaries. [National Education Association]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2018)
Hernando County School District Headquarters, Brooksville
    The district has also promised to look for ways to bring insurance costs down for 2021 and beyond.