January 16, 2023

Sue Kingery Woltanski: “What Got Us Here, Won’t Get Us There” – Florida’s 8th Grade NAEP Disaster

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Florida has been bragging about its fourth grade NAEP scores, while carefully ignoring the tremendous drop that occurs between fourth and eighth grade. But over the years, Florida has made an attempt to understand what is happening. A report in 2017 found some issues that might explain the problem.


Per the report, Florida had a significantly lower median income and parents had significant lower levels of education (Tables C-3 and C-4 on pages C-2 – C3) compared to the high performing states, so it was not surprising that Florida had more students qualifying for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL). Also, no surprise, that Florida had a larger number of English Language learners. What was, perhaps, surprising was that each subgroup significantly underperformed on the 8th grade assessments in comparison to similar student populations in the comparison states.

Florida’s population of low-income students eligible for FRL was considerably higher than that of the comparison states and those students performed worse on the NAEP mathematics assessment compared to students eligible for FRL in five comparison states.

There are also issues with staffing.

Providing increased support requires increased support staff but the report demonstrated Florida’s schools were comparatively understaffed. Although Florida’s Constitution restricts class size, there were significant differences in the average number of students per support services staff and librarians, with Florida having 2-3 TIMES more students per support staff.

Also notable was the effect of students moving in and out of schools. 

In Florida, 80 percent of students were in schools where 4 percent or more of the student body left before the end of the school year, higher than the national average and the corresponding percentages in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont (figure 3; table C.9, appendix C). Similarly, Florida had a larger percentage of students in schools with high rates of late enrollment relative to the same five comparison states. Only Washington had a comparable percentage of students in schools with a high rate of student mobility.

The report recommended that Florida consider further research examining the causes of student absenteeism and mobility in the state. They suggested it might be beneficial to study the role of the agricultural growing season in select areas in relation to exit attrition and late enrollment.

There was NO discussion of the impact of school choice on student mobility.

In a state where families are encouraged to change schools every time they are unhappy with any aspect of their current school, student mobility could well be an issue. Read the full post here. 

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