Lurking in the Bushes: Peeking at Florida Education Miracle

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There is another education presidential candidate lurking in the Bushes with an education “miracle” being discussed extensively in the media and elsewhere. Critics have pointed out that the miracle in Florida is no more real than the education miracle in Texas that spawned No Child Left Behind a decade ago— another elegant illusion of numbers? Some say the skeptics are wrong in their analyses of recent educational success in Florida. So what is the real story?

As we were preparing the Education: Texas vs. California vs. New York vs. Nation policy report, we also concurrently gathered data for Florida that ultimately ended up on the cutting floor. For your educational policy and descriptive statistical pleasure I have now included the data from the past decade for Florida below. I won’t extensively discuss the Texas, California and New York results or detail the methodology because we have already done so here. Note: Florida did not give the NAEP in 2000. If you know why, please pass that along.

The 4th grade NAEP scores is where Jeb gained his educational policy credentials. Reuters stated:

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush soared to rock star status in the education world on the strength of a chart. A simple graph, it tracked fourth-grade reading scores. In 1998, when Bush was elected governor, Florida kids scored far below the national average. By the end of his second term, in 2007, they were far ahead, with especially impressive gains for low-income and minority students.

So let’s get to it.

4th Grade NAEP Read
State 2002 2009 CHANGE
California 205.9 209.8 3.8
New York 222.4 224.4 1.9
Texas 216.9 218.9 1.9
Florida 214.4 225.7 11.3
National Rank: 4th Grade NAEP Read
State 2002 2009 CHANGE
California 41.0 48.0 -7
New York 12.0 15.0 -3
Texas 29.0 33.0 -4
Florida 31.0 10.0 21
4th Grade NAEP Math
State 2000 2009 CHANGE
California 213.6 231.7 18.1
New York 226.6 240.6 14.1
Texas 232.7 240.5 7.8
Florida N/A 241.9 N/A
National Rank: 4th Grade NAEP Math
State 2000 2009 CHANGE
California 40.0 45.0 -5
New York 22.0 26.0 -4
Texas 6.0 27.0 -21
Florida N/A 10.0 N/A

In reading, Florida outperformed California, Texas and New York in 2009. Florida increased their ranking from 31st in the nation to 10th in the nation. In math you see a similar trend in 4th grade. Florida showed the highest scores in 2009 of the most populous states and were again ranked 10th in the nation.

Of course there is criticism of these data. As noted above, Dr. Walt Haney who debunked the Texas miracle attributes the Florida miracle scores in 4th grade to retention in 3rd grade. Others have argued that the NAEP scores are valid in Florida regardless of the ~10% of students that are held back in the Sunshine State. So lets move on and see if we observe these stupendous 4th grade results elsewhere in the Florida data.

8th Grade NAEP Read
State 2002 2009 CHANGE
California 250.5 252.6 2.2
New York 263.9 264.3 0.3
Texas 262.1 260.4 -1.7
Florida 261.1 264.4 3.3
National Rank: 8th Grade NAEP Read
State 2002 2009 CHANGE
California 41.0 49.0 -8
New York 22.0 31.0 -9
Texas 26.0 34.0 -8
Florida 29.0 30.0 1
8th Grade NAEP Math
State 2000 2009 CHANGE
California 262.2 270.4 8.3
New York 276.3 282.6 6.3
Texas 274.8 286.7 11.8
Florida N/A 279.3 N/A
National Rank: 8th Grade NAEP Math
State 2000 2009 CHANGE
California 34.0 46.0 -12
New York 19.0 31.0 -12
Texas 22.0 18.0 4
Florida N/A 34.0 N/A

In 8th grade reading, Florida performed above Texas and California and on par with New York and was ranked at 30th in the nation. In 8th grade math, Florida lagged behind New York and Texas, but outperformed California. Florida was ranked 34th in the nation in 2009 for 8th grade math. The 8th grade results are positive, but not outstanding like we observed in the 4th grade as the state falls below the halfway point at 30th and 34th in the nation.

Haney argued that NAEP scores are less important than understanding student progression through school. Thus, graduation is a more important measure of a state’s success. As a result, the analysis of data will now turn to U.S. Department of Education data that examines the number of high school graduates via the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) for public schools in each of the most populous states.

Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR)
2001-2002 2008-2009 CHANGE
California 72.7 71.0 -2
Florida 63.4 68.9 5
New York 60.5 73.5 13
Texas 73.5 75.4 2
National Rank: Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR)
2001-2002 2008-2009 CHANGE
California 34 42 -8
Florida 45 44 1
New York 49 39 10
Texas 31 29 2

At the outset, the news appears to be good for Florida in the graduation data as they increased about 5% between 2001 and 2009. However, their graduation rate was the lowest of the most populous states and Florida remained 44th in the nation. Ouch!

Composite ACT
2000 2010 CHANGE
California 21.4 22.2 0.8
New York 22.2 23.3 1.1
Texas 20.3 20.8 0.5
Florida 20.6 19.5 -1.1
National Rank: Composite ACT
2000 2010 CHANGE
California 23 15 8
New York 4 4 0
Texas 39 33 6
Florida 36 49 -13

Does the news get better on the ACT? Um. No. Florida’s overall composite ACT scores decreased between 2000 and 2010. They were the lowest of the most populous states. They were ranked 49th in the nation.

Composite SAT
2000 2010 CHANGE
California 1015 1017 2
New York 1000 983 -17
Texas 993 989 -4
Florida 998 994 -4
National Rank: Composite SAT
2000 2010 CHANGE
California 36 35 1
New York 42 47 -5
Texas 47 44 3
Florida 45 41 4

How about the news on the SAT? Florida’s overall composite scores SAT scores also decreased. They outperform Texas and New York, but lagged behind California. Florida ranked 41st in the nation in composite SAT scores. (I know someone lurking out there is thinking that the SAT and ACT scores are dependent on composition of the sample, of course it does. But the data is the data)

In sum, NAEP scores seemed positive (with caveats). However, do NAEP scores determine the future of Florida’s students? When we consider the measures that actually matter for many kids’ lives: Graduation rates, ACT and SAT… It is only a peek— but you be the judge of the Florida miracle.

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Categories: Dropout, High-Stakes Testing

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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18 Comments on “Lurking in the Bushes: Peeking at Florida Education Miracle”

  1. November 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Florida, like Alabama (which jumped from 45th to 39th in ranking on the 4th grade NAEP reading) has done a good job of test besting, and focusing on a particular skill set for a particular test, some will say (I include myself here) that the focus on the NAEP 4th grade test is at the expense of deeper understanding and higher order thinking. At any rate, the National Percentile Ranking of Alabama students went down every year after that, FOR THE SAME COHORT! What this tells us, is that there is no miracle, there was a short-sighted focus on one test, to the detriment of the long-term learning of the students. Florida, at fiurst glance, appears to be the same thing!

  2. November 29, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    Thanks for some of the puzzle pieces. Here’s one for you: The Florida Dept of Ed says: “Florida has participated every year in state NAEP since 1990 except for 2000 (the year the FCAT was expanded to include Grades 3–10)” http://bit.ly/Uecm2W

  3. November 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    Hmmm….Couldn’t some of these gains may be real & due instead to the class size reduction that has occurred statewide during these years (and which Jeb Bush vociferously opposed.)?:

  4. November 30, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    Could the class size amendment explain some improvements too? Jeb conveniently fails to mention that…

  5. Kevin
    June 2, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    One caveat for the low ACT/SAT scores in Florida: Students are required to pass the 10th grade state outcome measure (FCAT) in reading and mathematics to graduate. They may either retake the FCAT reading/math assessments or use attempt to receive a concordant score on the SAT/ACT. This policy greatly increases the percentage and number of lower performing students taking (and retaking) the ACT/SAT.

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