Giving all of Florida’s students the chance to run as fast as they can: Elementary and middle school math and science

Those who follow Florida education policy know about the state’s success in reading instruction, especially at the elementary level (read a Florida Department of Education press release on this subject here).

But what about the state’s performance on math and science?  According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Florida is frustratingly average in these subjects, despite the state’s success in reading.

The plots below compare Florida’s proficiency rates at the 4th and 8th grade levels on the 2013 NAEP math assessment to the national rates.  The plots show the proficiency rates not only for all students, but for African-Americans, Hispanics, and students whose family incomes are low enough to qualify for free and reduced price lunches.



At the 4th grade level, Florida is average, with slightly better-than-average performance by the state’s black and lunch-eligible students.  Hispanic 4th graders perform significantly better than the national rate.  But the 4th grade math performance does not even come close to the state’s performance level in reading.

At the 8th grade level, Florida is below average.  The performance of black and lunch-eligible students is indistinguishable from the national averages.

The last NAEP science assessment was in 2011, and only looked at 8th graders.


Once again, Florida’s performance is uninspiring.  Hispanic students exceed the national average, but other than that…ugh.

So what would it take to do better?  The answer, as it always seems to be, is more strong teachers.  Sherman Dorn argues that elementary reading coaches drove the state’s achievement in reading.  Improvements in elementary math and science will almost certainly require specially trained math and science coaches.  At the middle school level, we need teachers who are “stronger in content” – that is, better mathematicians and scientists.  And we need to be willing to invest more to get these teachers.

I’ve included plots of proficiency rates by gender for the NAEP math and science assessments below.  What’s most striking about these is that the gender gap that shows up in high school and college really hasn’t caught hold even at the middle school level.




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