New report finds many academic trend lines rising in Florida’s public schools

Florida’s public schools were handed another solid but overlooked report card this week from another respected, independent source.

The 27-page, data-stuffed, “Decade of Progress” progress report from the Southern Regional Education Board is yet more evidence that Florida’s public schools are making steady progress despite the claims of some critics. The trend lines are often especially strong for low-income and minority students.

For example, between 2003 and 2011, the percentage of low-income eighth-graders scoring at the basic level or above on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress rose from 55 to 65 percent in Florida – a 10-point gain. Over the same period, the percentage of more affluent eighth-graders who reached the bar rose 5 percentage points, from 78 to 83 percent.

For each of its 16 member states, the SREB looked at a wide array of academic indicators to see how much the needle moved over the past decade, and how those gains or losses compared nationally and regionally. Besides commonly cited indicators like NAEP scores, graduation rates and AP results, the board looked at less-publicized statistics like college enrollment rates, ninth-grade “enrollment bulges” and grade-level progression in high school.

According to the report, the percentage of recent high school graduates enrolling in college in Florida increased from 57 to 71 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nationally, the numbers rose from 56 to 67 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of college freshmen in Florida who returned for a second year remained steady at 86 percent.

The SREB report comes as Florida faces mounting criticism for its testing and accountability regimen, which many critics, including local school board members and parent groups, say has been ineffective. Despite that backdrop, the report was all but ignored by Florida media (an exception here), as was this recent report that found Florida’s graduation rates are among the fastest-rising in the nation.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at

One Comment

NAEP scores for grade 4 only are included in the boast section. I have previously noted that Florida’s 2009 Seniors were below the national average in both Reading and Math on the NAEP. Only 11 schools participated and of them, only two other states did so poorly. Recall as well that A schools were everywhere producing sorry end results. Imagine the number of years our subaverage Seniors were exposed to Jeb’s mistaken strategies. Should I be stupid enough to clap when a grade 3 retention policy clears the grade 4 testing pool of low performers? Exactly what is worthy of a boast if someone can swim when they are 9 but drown by the time they are 17 and the swimming instruction ends?
I am surprised the SREB had no objection to the sure diploma killer requirements of the last legislative session. I did take the courses Florida will be requiring one to pass and I can’t remember a time they came in handy since then. I have been a doctoral student and an advocate for gifted students. I like the availability of learning but not the deletion of a start to a future after 12 or 13 years of schooling. Florida creates an unemployable work force segment and that should never be the result of an education system.
I have more data for a later post.
There is good reason for the unrest in Florida and it is not going away. Members of the public are able to challenge the PR efforts.

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