Despite progress, Florida still has far to go, PISA results show

The latest international test results confirm what Florida education reformers have been saying for years: Despite arguably the biggest academic gains in the nation over the past 15 years, Florida students still lag too far behind.

PISA report coverReleased Tuesday, the math, science and reading results on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment tests, better known as PISA, show 15-year-olds in both Florida and the nation are middling, or worse, compared to their peers around the planet.

Sixty-five countries and economies participated in the tests, which have been given every three years since 2000. Florida, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the only states whose scores were reported separately.

In math, the U.S. mean score of 481 fell below the mean of 494 for the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In science, the U.S. mean of 497 fell below the OECD mean of 501. In reading, the U.S. mean of 498 was just above the OECD mean of 496.

Florida students scored 467 in math, 485 in science and 492 in reading, far below Massachusetts (at 514, 527 and 527, respectively) and Connecticut (at 506, 521 and 521 respectively). It’s worth noting that Florida has a far higher percentage of low-income students, 56 percent, compared to 34.2 percent for Massachusetts and 34.5 percent for Connecticut.

The trend lines for the U.S. were flat in all three areas. It ranked an estimated No. 26 of the 34 OECD countries in math, an estimated No. 17 in reading and an estimated No. 21 in science.

The three states didn’t participate in prior PISA tests, so it’s unclear from those tests whether they are making gains relative to their peers in the U.S. and beyond. Other academic indicators, including NAEP scores, AP results and graduation rates, show Florida students are among the national leaders in progress.

But when it comes to proficiency, too many aren’t there yet.

“While reforms are making a difference and we can all point to signs of progress we’ve made in Florida, the fact is, our students are not keeping up with the rest of the world in the classroom,” Nikki Lowery, director of StudentsFirst Florida, said in a written statement. “This report should motivate all of us to do better for our children – to intensify our focus and remember what’s at stake. We’re not getting to where we need to be fast enough and easing up on the gas pedal, or lowering the bar for our students won’t help them compete in the world they’re about to inherit.”

Other coverage: New York Times, Education Week, Washington Post, Hechinger ReportPoliticoJay P. Greene’s Blog, Eduwonk, Answer SheetOrlando SentinelFort Myers News Press, GradebookStateImpact Florida, Bridge to Tomorrow, Associated Press.

General, Testing and Accountability


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  1. How can you ignore poverty, then say, hey look we probably did worse because we more have poorer kids?

  2. Ed reformers like Jeb Bush are fond of telling teachers and schools that poverty is not an excuse for low test scores. “Poverty is not a factor in struggling schools.”, etc. Unfortunately, that means that YOU cannot now turn around and USE that very argument. Not allowed. Foul.

  3. Hi Chris, Hi Charles, thanks for reading and commenting. With all due respect, I think you’re distorting the position of “ed reformers” I know. I’ve never heard any reasonable “reformer” say poverty is not a factor in struggling schools or student achievement. I think everybody recognizes poverty is a HUGE factor, particularly for those students mired in generational poverty. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make policy changes to education that improve academic outcomes for kids despite poverty. I think that’s what people mean when they say we shouldn’t use poverty as an excuse.

    I think Florida is a state that has done that; it outperforms its demographic (though clearly we have far, far to go). The same can be said for some school districts in Florida, like Miami-Dade; it, too, outperforms its demographic. And the same can be said for a number of individual schools. In other words, some schools, school districts and states are able to perform better than their level of poverty suggests they would. We should be looking more closely at the data to identify those places, and then taking a closer, careful look at what they’re doing that makes a difference.

    I also think this is another part of the education debate that isn’t either/or. We should be making policy changes that better outcomes for kids in school at the same time we work on all the other complicated, interrelated things that are tied up with generational poverty.