TALLAHASSEE -- Fewer than 40 percent of Florida’s fourth- and eighth-grade students have scored at the proficient or advanced levels in math and reading, according to a national assessment released Tuesday.
Also known as the Nation’s Report Card, it shows Florida’s scores in both subjects have remained flat since the last National Assessment of Educational Progress two years ago. There’s also been little change in the gaps between minority and white students.
Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson issued a statement noting some bright spots in the report and commending students, teachers and school officials for their efforts.
The results will “help us further adapt classroom instruction to accommodate the needs of our students,” Robinson said.
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He noted Florida’s average fourth-grade reading score was five points higher than the national average -- 225 compared to 220. For eighth graders it was about the same.
Thirty-five percent of Florida’s fourth-grade students and 30 percent of eighth-graders scored at the proficient level or above in reading.
Math scores weren’t much better. Thirty-seven percent of Florida’s fourth-graders were deemed proficient or advanced and 28 percent of eighth graders. The fourth graders equaled the national average while Florida’s eighth grade scores were five points below.
State Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said he wasn’t surprised by the scores.
“The challenges school districts are facing today are far greater than they were even five, 10 years ago,” Montford said.
He noted the number of students on free and reduced lunches has increased dramatically in some districts and more parents are unemployed.
“All of that has a tremendously negative impact on the ability of students to stay focused and perform,” Montford said. “We have children who are hungry.”
Even though performance has plateaued, Florida should increase its academic standards, former Gov. Jeb Bush said in a statement. Bush continues to lobby for his education agenda, including raising standards, through his Foundation for Florida’s Future.
“Now is the time to raise the bar,” Bush said. “We cannot rest on our first decade of success.”
Bush noted the state currently is considering proposals to raise standards for third through seventh grade. He said they also should be raised for the eighth through 10th grades and that more resources be focused on early literacy.
“And investing in education is also important,” Bush said. “We urged the Florida Legislature to protect funding for public education.”
Lawmakers, though, have cut spending for public schools in recent years.
The Florida scores also showed a persistent achievement gap in the scores for black and Hispanic students compared to those of whites. The gaps were not significantly different from more than a decade ago although in some cases they did narrow a bit.
Robinson, though, pointed out Florida’s Hispanic students topped the national average in both subjects for both grades.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the wide-sweeping federal education accountability law passed under former President George W. Bush, all students must be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Tuesday’s results show again that students in Florida and across the country are still far from reaching that goal.
Florida plans to apply for a waiver from the law that’s being offered by President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Education while Congress works on changes. Democrats and Republicans agree the law needs fixing.
Under No Child Left Behind, even schools making improvements can be labeled as failures. Critics say that has discouraged states from adopting higher standards.
In Florida, just 10 percent of all elementary, middle and high schools this year were deemed to have made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind.