Florida Keeps Star Role among States in Improving Student Reading Scores

Yesterday brought news from the U.S. Department of Education of the new state-by-state NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores in 4th and 8th grade reading. These tests are the gold standard for comparing student performance between states and over time.

The big headlines note that in the short term (since 2007) the nation’s reading scores stayed flat in 4th grade and ticked up slightly in 8th grade. In the long term (going back to the first comparable tests in 1998), the results are exactly the opposite: with 4th grade scores going up modestly and 8th grade scores essentially remaining the same. Colorado’s achievement at both grade levels remains above the national average, but continues to track at about the same level of progress.

The real long-term winner is still the state of Florida — which, as Matthew Ladner reports on Jay Greene’s blog, not only is boosting student performance across the board but also cutting the achievement gaps based on race and poverty.

In addition to outgaining every other state since 1998, the Sunshine State’s Hispanic students alone now tie or do better than the student 4th grade reading totals from 30 states and its African-American students tie or do better than the student totals from 8 states. What’s so special about Florida? Its unique and comprehensive approach to education reform that started under then-Governor Jeb Bush in 1999.

Interestingly, the National Education Association’s latest rankings (PDF) place Colorado at 30th in current spending per pupil ($9,574) and Florida at 41st ($8,761) — see Table H-11, page 55.

Behind Florida, seven other states earn honorable mention for tracking significant progress over the past decade in both 4th and 8th grade reading: Delaware, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Missouri and Georgia. Of the eight top states in reading progress, five spend more per pupil than Colorado does and three less.