1. Opinion

Editorial: Student testing yields poor results

Published May 16, 2014

From Gov. Rick Scott to former Gov. Jeb Bush, supporters of Florida's school accountability system that relies heavily on standardized testing should answer a few more questions. If the state really is a national model, why isn't it graduating students who outperform their national peers? And why are Florida's high school seniors only outperforming West Virginia among 13 states with test scores reported?

New scores for 12th-graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — often called the "nation's report card" — suggest that the state's accountability system is not as successful in producing positive results for students as its supporters suggest. In 2013, Florida's high school seniors performed worse than the national average in math and were statistically even with the nation in reading.

These students have spent their entire academic careers under Florida's onerous FCAT and school grading system. And that's the result, despite the selective highlights promoted by the system's supporters. As the students prepare to graduate high school, they are average at best compared with their peers or worse. That hardly represents a proud accomplishment, and it should provoke more discussion about whether Florida really is on the right path.

Florida is one of 11 states that has 12th grade results for both 2009 and 2013. Florida trailed the nation in both subjects in 2009 as it did again in 2013, though reading was a statistical tie. Two states joined the pilot program last year. Of those 13, Florida clearly outclassed only one in reading, West Virginia. It surpassed two in math, West Virginia and Tennessee. Forty percent of Florida's 12th-graders failed to demonstrate even basic math skills.

The achievement gap for Florida's 12th-graders remains a chasm. Sixty percent of Florida's African-American seniors were below basic in math skills, as were 49 percent of Hispanic students. Black students' average scores were 24 points lower than white students', a gap unchanged from 2009 through last year.

Over time, fourth-grade reading skills are the only clear bright spot in Florida's NAEP results. Florida's fourth-graders trailed their national peers through the 1990s, caught up with them 12 years ago and have been ahead of the nation since 2005. Elsewhere, results for Florida students are mixed. For example, the state's eighth- and 12th-graders have been below the national average in math on every single test; for eighth grade, that dates back to 1990.

The state's success in fourth-grade reading is a significant accomplishment, but it means little if it doesn't translate to higher achievement by the time those students leave high school. The next time supporters of Florida's standardized testing and accountability system sing its praises, ask them why the state's high school seniors don't match up well against their peers from other states.