Florida’s educational leaders frequently brag about how well the state’s elementary school students achieve in reading and math, and how they do so despite the state’s demographic challenges.
Those brags are justified, as shown by results from 4th grade results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
But in math at the middle and high school levels, the state has nothing to brag about. The glow of exemplary achievement that surrounds Florida elementary students fades out by 8th grade, as shown in the 2017 NAEP 8th grade math results. And the 2018 SAT results released recently show that the 8th grade math results are not a fluke – our high school students are weak in math as well.
The same educational leaders who are so happy to brag about how Florida’s elementary students defeat their demographic disadvantages fall back to a disappointing defense of the state’s lackluster math results at the middle and high school levels – that Florida should be excused for its lousy math results at the secondary level because of its demographics. Those are the same demographics that our elementary students (and their teachers) defeat.
Patrick Gibbons’s recent defense of the state’s SAT results on redefinedonline.org provides a frustrating example of this defense of mathematical mediocrity at the middle and high school levels. Patrick starts by arguing that instead of comparing Florida’s SAT results to all states, our results should only be compared with nine other states where more than 95% of high school graduates take the SAT. I agree. So below, I show results from the Gibbons Ten – the ten states with SAT-taking rates higher than 95% – for the 2017 NAEP 4th grade math exam, the 2017 NAEP 8th grade math exam, and the 2018 SAT math exam. The metric Patrick discussed was the percentage of students from a state earning a high enough SAT math score to be considered “college-ready” by the College Board (for Florida that was 37%). So I choose to show the closest NAEP metric to that – the percentage of students who are deemed either “proficient” or “advanced”. And I show that metric for 4th grade and 8th grade.
Florida’s 4th graders are stars in math.
By 8th grade, they are goats. And that continues in high school.
How do we explain the steep drop in math achievement that Florida’s students experience in middle school? That’s easy to answer: Florida’s elementary students are stars in both reading and math at the elementary level because the state’s educational leaders have made it a priority. Middle school math achievement is not a priority.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what kids can do in 4th grade if they can’t compete at a national level by the time they graduate from high school. That’s why it’s so important for Florida to make the same commitment to middle and high school math achievement that the state has made at the elementary level.
What would it look like if Florida’s educational leaders made middle and high school math achievement a priority?
For one thing, the state would do whatever it takes to reverse the decline in the supply of new Math 6-12 teachers, which is shown below.
Perhaps the state would also replicate Orange County’s Calculus Project, which recruits low-income rising 7th graders into Algebra 1 and provides the support these students need to succeed.
But doing nothing about improving middle and high school math achievement, which is what Florida is doing now, isn’t good enough.