Education Week rankings underscore Florida’s academic progress, again

Florida student achievement graph
Student achievement is more equitable, and improving more quickly, than the national average, but still trails the rest of the country in absolute terms. Source: Education Week, 2016 Quality Counts

It might have been a rocky year for education policy in Florida. But the latest rankings from Education Week show when it comes to student achievement, things remain fairly steady.

EWQC 2016 coverThe 2016 “Quality Counts” report, released this morning, shows Florida continues to rank average to poor on many key academic indicators, but – with one notable exception – high in making progress and closing achievement gaps.

Overall, the state ranked No. 29 among 50 states (No. 30 with Washington D.C. in the mix), down from No. 28 last year. Gradewise, that’s a C-, compared to a C for the nation.

In K-12 achievement, Florida slipped from No. 7 to No. 11. It again posted a C. The nation again posted a C-. The top-ranked state, Massachusetts, earned the only B.

It wouldn’t be surprising if critics of Florida’s ed reform track point to the rankings as evidence of a slide, but so far the numbers don’t support the claim.

Between 2009 and 2013, Florida landed in or near the Top 10 every year in overall ranking. But after not giving grades in 2014, Education Week switched to a new matrix last year that cut the grading categories from six to three. The new formula nixed categories where Florida historically fared well, such as standards and accountability, and left two where it hasn’t: education spending and an EdWeek creation called the Chance-for-Success Index.

(For what it’s worth, I find some of the sub-categories in the Chance-for-Success Index odd. Florida gets dinged, for example, because it has a lot of working-class folks who aren’t college educated, or who don’t speak English well. Yet evidence is strong that Florida’s education system overcomes challenging demographics better than the vast majority of states.)

In the category that matters most, Florida has been on a roll.

Since 2009, it’s finished at No. 7, No. 7, No. 6, No. 12, No. 12, No. 7, No. 7 and now No. 11 in achievement.

EdWeek typically updates that category every other year, looking at a mix of performance and progress on NAEP tests, AP exams and graduation rates.

Florida gets high marks for getting better. For example, it ranked No. 43 in grad rates in 2012 (the year that’s considered for the rankings), but No. 8 in improvement between 2002 and 2012. On three of the four core NAEP tests, it ranked in the Top 10 in gains between 2003 and 2015. On AP exams, it ranked No. 5 in performance and No. 3 in progress.

The glaring exception to Florida’s progress: Its eighth-grade math scores.

The Sunshine State ranked No. 41 in proficiency on the NAEP in eighth-grade math, and No. 27 in progress. Worse, it ranked No. 43 in the percentage of students scoring at the advanced level on that test, and No. 46 in improvement since 2003.

In overall achievement, Massachusetts was followed by New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Minnesota, Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Florida has a far higher rate of low-income students than any of them, with 57.6 percent eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, according to the most recent federal statistics.

Other Quality Counts coverage, in Florida: Orlando Sentinel.

Other Quality Counts coverage: Boston Globe.