1. Opinion

PolitiFact Florida: The facts about Rick Scott's education ad

Gov. Rick Scott\u2019s claims on education in Florida  don\u2019t hold up.\uFEFF
Gov. Rick Scott\u2019s claims on education in Florida don\u2019t hold up.\uFEFF
Published Sep. 30, 2018

Gov. Rick Scott says in a new ad for his Senate campaign that he likes it when "Florida is first."

"Fourth-grade reading and math scores, first in the nation," Scott says in the ad. "Eighth-grade reading, first. High school AP classes and college education, both ranked first in the nation. And now, our highest education funding ever. I like it when Florida is first."

The only problem is that Florida isn't first in most categories Scott talks about in the ad. The idea Florida has the "highest education funding ever" is also misleading. (We rated a similar version of that claim Half True.)

As evidence of Florida's reading and math performance, Scott campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone sent us the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress report and a governor's office press release.

We opened the links expecting to see a bunch of No. 1 rankings for the Sunshine State. Instead, we found out that the 2017 data ranks Florida fifth in fourth-grade reading, seventh in fourth-grade math, and 25th in eighth-grade reading.

"Florida is not No. 1 among any subject or in any grade," said Stephaan Harris, a spokesman for the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the National Assessment of Education Progress. "If you look at the categories, there are states that perform significantly higher, meaning there's statistical significance that illustrates those states scored higher and had better performance."

The National Assessment of Education Progress, a congressionally mandated project administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, is given to fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders in each state to evaluate their skills in several subject areas and compare them to the rest of the country.

The Scott campaign did not respond to a request for clarification.

Back in April, the governor's office spun the results favorably, saying, "The results show that Florida is the only state to have improved significantly in grade 4 mathematics, grade 8 reading and grade 8 mathematics between 2015 and 2017."

Other states improved in fourth- and eighth-grade reading, as well, but Florida is technically the only state that improved across those three metrics specifically from 2015 to 2017.

However, as any student athlete will tell you, "most improved" does not mean "first" or "best."

The scores had a bit of room to climb.

Florida's eighth-grade math scores aren't leading the nation — 29 percent of students were at least proficient in 2017, compared to the national average of 33 percent. That was an improvement from 26 percent proficiency in 2015, which was significantly below the national average.

Florida's average eighth-grade reading score improved slightly from 2015 but was not significantly different than the 2017 national average.

Florida's fourth-grade reading scores were above the national average, not the best in the country.

The ad additionally claims high school Advanced Placement classes in Florida are ranked first in the nation. Scott didn't say for what.

An education department's 2017 press release was more specific, pointing to participation in exams and improved scores.

"Florida ranks first in participation in the AP exams during high school and third in the nation for improvement over the last decade," the release said.

Compared to other states, Florida did have the highest percentage of 2017 graduates who took an Advanced Placement exam during high school, according to the 2017 Florida AP Cohort data report.

"Florida in 2017 had the highest 'Percentage of Graduates Who Took an AP Exam During High School' when comparing Florida among the 50 states, which was 54.6 percent," Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Audrey Walden said.

However, when the numbers include 11th-graders, Florida ranked fourth in exam participation per 1,000 11th- and 12th-graders in 2017, according to the College Board data about the number of students who took and passed at least one Advanced Placement exam. Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut had more success.

Florida has improved its Advanced Placement exam participation in the past decade. As more people take exams, however, overall success wavers. Florida had a 51.6 percent pass rate in 2017, lower than 42 other states.

There is one bright spot for Scott's ad: When it comes to college education, Scott's claim that Florida is No. 1 holds up, according to the metrics of the 2018 U.S. News and World Report survey.

U.S. News put the state at the top of its 2018 "Best States for Higher Education" list, released in March.

U.S. News used metrics including the share of people in the state with college degrees, as well as the time it takes to complete two- and four-year college programs, tuition costs and fees state-by-state and debt after graduation.

Florida was No. 1 in the higher education category in 2017, as well.

Scott's claim shows a sign of promise but leaves a lot of room for improvement. On the Truth-O-Meter, it adds up to a Mostly False.

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