Florida’s falling test scores sound the alarm | Column
That’s a signal the state needs to raise the bar on the school grading scale.
Patricia Levesque
Patricia Levesque [ Foundation for Florida's Future ]

For nearly 20 years, Florida has been a national model in showing how student-centered education policies can improve the grades and lives of students.

But sobering news last week has made it clear that policymakers and educators must return to the proven, successful methods that made Florida a leader.

The needed alarm came late last month. Florida results from the 2019 Nation’s Report Card – the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP - were dismal, but not unexpected. Our reading scores among fourth- and eighth-graders dropped from 2017, the last time the test was administered. And our math scores were flat for both groups. This continued a decade of mediocrity.

One solution is clear. When we don’t regularly raise the bar in how we grade schools, we have flat or declining performance. It has been a long time since the state Board of Education has raised the bar in school grades – in fact, the longest period in our 20 years of school grading. When 63 percent of our schools have an “A” or “B” grade, while our performance is clearly dropping, it is clear that an easy “A” is failing our students.

It is also not surprising that our eighth graders continue to struggle to beat the national average on the NAEP, since the performance expectations we have set on our state test are so far below the NAEP expectations. It is especially disappointing that after Florida made significant progress, our achievement gap on eighth grade reading between the state average and low-income and minority students has regressed to the same level as 1998.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have aligned their expectations for student proficiency on their state test with NAEP proficiency. Florida did not. There’s a 22-point and 33-point gap in reading and math, respectively, on the bar we ask eighth graders to meet on our state test, compared to the bar that the NAEP test sets for eighth graders. Simply put, we are not asking our students and teachers to strive for the level of success they need to be prepared for school and a career.

The good news is that Florida can move forward with a few simple actions and investments:

--The state Board of Education should raise the bar on the school grading scale and reinstate the automatic escalator that allows the scale to increase gradually over time as school performance increases.

-- The state Board of Education should ensure that the cut scores on the eighth grade reading and math tests are aligned with NAEP.

-- The Legislature should reinstate the responsibility and funding for professional teacher development in science-based reading instruction with the Just Read, Florida! office.

We look forward to working with educators and policymakers immediately to ensure Florida remains one of the nation’s shining examples of student-centered success.

Patricia Levesque is the executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a nonprofit organization focused on education reform.