Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Good News in Schools, but Room for Better; Florida Closing Achievement Gaps, but Still Gets D+ in K-12 Achievement

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Good News in Schools, but Room for Better; Florida Closing Achievement Gaps, but Still Gets D+ in K-12 Achievement

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Smith Amos

Florida education officials are happy with EdWeek's Quality Counts, an annual national report card on school quality and funding that ranked Florida seventh in the nation for academic achievement. The state even earned an A grade in closing achievement gaps between high-poverty students and others.

But there were low points.

For instance, under the report's K-12 Achievement category, Florida's "status" - which means its current achievement levels based on national tests and graduation rates - merited a D+ grade, or 67 out of a possible 100 points. And Florida earned an F for annual education spending.

Still, top officials were full of praise.

"I am proud of Florida's teachers who have worked so hard to help their students be successful," said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. "Quality Counts is a respected publication and shows that the Sunshine State once again is an example for the rest of the nation."

Gov. Rick Scott pointed out that he worked to give teachers a raise and to boost education funding in the latest budget.

However, neither top official addressed the less than complimentary grades Florida received. And others in education wondered about the accuracy of some of the measures. Cheryl Etters, a Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, said she questions how the state earned that D+ - how were test scores weighted compared to other factors that fed into academic achievement, such as graduation rates or scores on the Advanced Placement tests high school students take, she asked.

"I need to know what that means," she said.

Another grade under the Achievement category is for "change" - which means improvement in scores from year to year. Florida received a C+.

Florida's students were ranked near the top nationally for making improvements on their fourth-grade and eighth-grade reading test scores, but they remained among the bottom scorers nationally in fourth-grade math, eighth-grade math and eighth-grade reading scores.

The state's best grade under Achievement was for "equity," measuring how close the achievement gaps are between high-poverty students and others. Florida earned an A-, "for closing the poverty gap" in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math, Etters said.

Quality Counts also graded states on how well they fund public education, using finance data from 2011, the latest data available. It gave Florida mixed grades.

In the overall Funding category, Florida earned a C-, but within that category, it won an A- on equity - how well it distributes money across all kinds of districts, from poor to rich.

But Florida also earned an F for the amount of education spending it appropriates each year. The report says Florida ranks 36th among states for school finance, spending on average $9,752 per student compared to the national average of $11,864 per student.

Some school and child advocates say they were surprised at Florida's A grade for equity, but not the F for funding. They say the state doesn't direct enough funds to the highest-need children, such as those who come from low-income neighborhoods or those with disabilities.

"I think they're measuring the wrong things," said Colleen Wood, founder of 50th No More, a local advocacy group that wants Florida's education standing to rise. "We need to look deeper than numbers. Those scores don't tell the whole story."

For instance, she said, Florida's education funding formula succeeds in equalizing overall spending among school districts, making it look equitable, but because high-poverty students' needs often outstrip the extra funds in the formula, their schools still receive too little, she said. …

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