If you had to pick one issue in K-12 education where Florida policymakers need to maintain their focus in the coming years, the answer is clear: accountability.
Our state has made big commitments to supporting schools and educators, and we’ve opened new doors for parents to find K-12 options for their children, but we’re falling behind when it comes to preparing students for success beyond graduation.
Newly released data from the class of 2023 show Florida’s composite ACT score — the average of English, math, reading and science scores — was 18.9 out of 36, a decrease from 19.6 in 2014.
Nationally, ACT test scores have fallen to the lowest levels in 32 years. More than 4 in 10 seniors do not meet any of the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, which are the lowest scores for predicted success in college courses, and 70% of seniors fall short of college readiness benchmark for mathematics.
ACT scores are an important indicator of student readiness for higher education and the workforce. The state-level results from this year’s graduating class raise red flags.
Only half of Florida students who took the ACT met the career and college readiness benchmark in English. Just 37% met the reading benchmark. Only one out of four students met the math benchmark, and 26% met the benchmark in science.
Policymakers should be appalled not just by these poor results, but by the long-term movement in the wrong direction.
Florida has been following a concerning downward trend in ACT scores over the past six years, mirroring the situation in many other states. Scores have now reached their lowest point or tied for their lowest since at least 2019 in every benchmark. These trends serve as a stark reminder that there’s no room for complacency in our K-12 system — and we can’t wait until students are almost out of high school to take action.
The declining ACT scores in Florida emphasize the continued importance of strong accountability policies and the urgency to enhance our efforts in literacy and math education. It’s not just about improving standardized test scores; it’s about ensuring that our students are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.
For decades, Florida has had a strong accountability system in place, but state lawmakers are talking about rolling back some of those requirements, including retention in third grade for struggling readers and basic reading and math graduation requirements.
If we want better outcomes for our students, we have to know how they’re doing as they move through school. It’s unhelpful to find out a high school student isn’t reading on grade level when they’re in high school. Holding students to a high standard throughout their academic careers ensures they get the support and intervention they need early on.
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Based on this year’s data and a troubling trend line, it’s clear the conversations we need to have as a state are not going to be easy, but they have to happen.
The future success of Florida and its young people depends on the quality of education we provide them today. It’s time to redouble our efforts, especially in literacy and math, and commit to a brighter educational future for all Florida students.
Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He is the founder and chair of ExcelinEd, ExcelinEd in Action and the Foundation for Florida’s Future.