2015 NAEP: Florida’s middle school math meltdown

Florida’s 8th graders are now among the nation’s worst in math, according to the results of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which were released this morning.

According to the results, only 26% of Florida’s 8th graders are proficient in math, a rate that is higher than only Alabama, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Florida’s 26% proficiency rate in 8th grade math is a dramatic drop from the 2013 NAEP rate of 31%.  The national proficiency rate also dropped from 35% to 33%, but Florida’s drop is much more dramatic than the national drop.  According to School Zone, Florida, Kansas and Pennsylvania have the nation’s largest scale score drops for 8th grade math.

Florida’s students mostly held their ground in reading and 4th grade math, pointing to middle school math as a crisis point that must be addressed by educational leaders and policy-makers.

Middle school math has always been the nation’s STEM pipeline Achilles heel.  American middle school math teachers generally have weaker math skills themselves than their counterparts in other nations with which the US competes.

It seems likely that Florida’s middle school math meltdown is a result of a shortage of strong math teachers at that level.  Given the crisis in which the state’s middle school math program now finds itself, Florida needs a crash program to recruit strong math students into middle school teaching.  Redirecting the dollars spent this year on the controversial Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program to recruit strong math students into teaching through a differential pay program now seems imperative.  If such a differential pay scheme makes the English teachers feel bad, as one state official once worried during a meeting with me, that’s too bad.  Our students have a major problem that is going to limit their economic prospects, and the State of Florida has a responsibility to address it in a decisive way.

And about those FSA cut scores:  Adopting Commissioner Stewart’s status quo cut scores in middle school math now seems almost dishonest.  Our middle school students are getting measurably weaker in math, and the FSA cut scores and passing rates should at least reflect that.

It’s time for Florida to take middle school math seriously for the first time.  Do our leaders have the guts to do so?

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