What really helped Florida's test scores
I've recently published a number of posts about school reform in Florida, which has been driven over the past decade by Jeb Bush, who was governor there from 1999 to 2007 and who still has a great deal of influence over education policy in the Sunshine State, and, increasingly beyond. Florida's reforms revolved around an expansion of standardized testing and choice (vouchers, charter schools, etc.), and it is these measures that are often given credit for a rise in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In this post, research analyst Michael Martin looks at what reforms really impacted the test scores. Martin works for the Arizona School Boards Association; this post is his own work and not approved or endorsed by the association.
By Michael Martin
Many efforts to promote ideas taken from the school reforms in Florida often are a classic example of “truthiness,” defined as believing what one wants to be true instead of what is actually true.
Florida did achieve considerable improvements in student achievement during the last decade. But it is important to see when the gains occurred and where they occurred.
Florida had an overall Grade 4 reading score of 205.7 in 1998, which was almost the same as the 204.9 score in 1994 on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests. The score in 2002 was 214.4, rising to 219.5 in 2005, and 223.5 in 2007, and 225.7 in 2009. Thus from a less than one-point change in 1998, Florida saw an almost 10-point change in 2002, a five-point change in 2005, a three-point change in 2007 and a two-point change in 2009.
Clearly something significant occurred to improve reading test scores in Florida between 1998 and 2002 that continued at a much lower level in subsequent years.
The No Child Left Behind Act could only have had a role in diminishing the gains, because its implementation occurred after 2002. Similarly, the voter-passed class size reduction initiative in Florida occurred in November of 2002. Mandatory Grade 3 retention was a law passed by the Florida legislature in 2002 and began in the 2002-03 school year. These reforms can only be associated with the declines in test score gains.
Averages can sometimes be deceptive. Looking at the NAEP scores marking the 10th percentile low end versus the 90th percentile high end provides an insight into what occurred.
Grade 4 reading scores at the 90th percentile went up 4 points from 1998 to 2002, but at the 10th percentile scores went up nearly 15 points. Thus the 10 point overall average gain in Grade 4 reading scores on the NAEP from 1998 to 2002 was primarily a gain at the lowest scoring levels, and Hispanic scores at the 10th percentile went up 19 points and African-American scores went up 17 points.
Something did happen in Florida in 1999 that specifically targeted low scoring students. In 1999 Florida created its “Assistance Plus” program targeting additional resources at schools rated as “D” or “F” in student test scores.
In an October 2002 status report on the Assistance Plus program, it noted that 64 schools were targeted for managerial assistance, including training teachers for “Effective Reading Practices” and funding reading coaches as well as coordinating activities with local college Assistance Plus Teams. The status report noted that “over $25 million statewide” in fiscal assistance was provided to these 64 schools, or about $390,000 per school.
The state created regional school improvement facilitators who were assigned failing schools to work with. These failing schools were paired with higher performing schools to provide peer models and assistance. In addition, colleges provided research-based assistance for implementing school improvement programs.
The schools also began working with other community organizations and administered community outreach programs, including climate surveys in languages of the parents. The Achievement Plus program perfectly fits the time and target of when and where Florida’s test scores improved.
From 2002 to 2005 the gains at the lowest scoring levels in Florida continued. At the 90th percentile NAEP Grade 4 reading scores increased by only 3 points, but at the 10th percentile scores increased over 10 points, with Hispanic scores at the 10th percentile increasing almost 15 points and African-American scores increasing over 12 points.
It is likely that the de-emphasis of the Assistance Plus program in later years accounts for the diminishing increases in Florida reading scores in more recent NAEP tests.
After 2005, the 10th percentile Grade 4 reading scores continued to show improvement, but at about half the levels of previous years. In fact, 90th percentile scores in 2009 had actually fallen by about half a point, but 10th percentile scores increased over 5 points while the overall average increased only 2 points.
People who claim various programs were responsible for the improvement in NAEP test scores in Florida over the past decade must explain why their improved NAEP reading scores primarily occurred among the lowest scoring students while other student scores largely stagnated, and why those increases were most dramatic from 1998 to 2002, diminishing afterward.
Targeting the lowest scoring schools in Florida for funding increases through Assistance Plus also meant targeting these funds at low-scoring minority students, and low-scoring minority students had the largest test score improvements. It is the large increases in 10th percentile test scores that created Florida’s much touted reduction in the achievement gap between minorities and majority students.
Targeting additional resources toward increased management training and professional development among teachers dealing with the most difficult students to teach makes simple common sense. Helping schools and teachers dealing with significant problems in Florida by providing additional human and fiscal resources fulfills Occam’s Razor for the best explanation of Florida’s success over the past decade.
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| January 7, 2011; 12:02 PM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, School turnarounds/reform, Standardized Tests | Tags: florida reform, jeb bush, jeb bush and school reform, naep scores, national assessment of educational reform, school reform
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