Florida and Michigan academic test scores

For decades many business, political and media elites have told us that Florida is the model for improving student achievement. They constantly urge Michigan to replicate former Governor Jeb Bush’s 1999 A+ Plan.

Today, once again, Florida is being trumpeted by many business, political and media elites for its policies of in-person schooling during the pandemic. The theory being that in-school learning minimizes learning loss compared to learning at home, largely online.

We are told over and over again that Florida’s student achievement is terrific and Michigan’s is lousy at best. One problem with this story: it isn’t accurate.

NAEP––the so-called nation’s report card––just released test results on reading and math for 4th graders and 8th graders. As you will see in the data below yes a higher proportion of Florida 4th graders are proficient than Michigan’s in both reading and math. But that out performance is entirely gone by the 8th grade. There the reading and math scores in the two states are virtually identical. That was true in pre-pandemic 2019 and post-pandemic 2022.

Here are the proportion of students proficient in 2019 and 2022:

  • 4th grade reading: Florida 38 percent in 2019, 39 percent in 2022; Michigan 32 percent in 2019, 28 percent in 2022
  • 8th grade reading: Florida 34 percent in 2019, 29 percent in 2022; Michigan 31 percent in 2019, 28 percent in 2022
  • 4th grade math: Florida 48 percent in 2019, 41 percent in 2022; Michigan 36 percent in 2019, 32 percent in 2022
  • 8th grade math: Florida 31 percent in 2019, 23 percent in 2022; MI 31 percent in 2019, 25 percent in 2022

Not only are the 8th grade proficiency rates virtually the same in the two states, the decline is proficiency between 2019 and 2022 is virtually the same except for 4th grade reading.

  • On 4th grade reading Florida gained one percent point which Michigan lost 4 percentage points.
  • On 4th grade math Florida’s decline was 7 percentage points, Michigan’s 4.
  • On 8th grade reading Florida’s decline was 5 percentage points, Michigan’s 3.
  • On 8th grade math Florida’s decline was 8 percentage points, Michigan’s 6.

(For those who believe that average scale scores are a better metric for determining state academic outcomes, the same pattern holds true on scale scores. Michigan and Florida virtually the same on 8th grade reading and math. And scale score declines between 2019 and 2022 virtually the same between the two states, except for 4th grade reading.)

(For those who believe Tennessee is an even better model for Michigan, the same pattern holds true. Tennessee has virtually identical 8th grade proficiency rates in reading and math as Michigan. And has virtually identical average college entrance exam scores.)

The reality is employers don’t hire based on 4th grade test scores. Neither do colleges make admission and readiness decisions based on 4th grade test scores. They don’t use 8th grade scores either. Unfortunately there is no longer a 12th grade NAEP, so the best measure we have of high school academic proficiency are the college entrance exam. In Florida and Michigan most high school students take the SAT. And here again the average scores between the two states is virtually the same. In 2022 87 percent of Florida students took the SAT with an average score of 963. In Michigan 84 percent took the test with an average score of 1000.

So the reality is that both Michigan and Florida have unacceptably low student proficiency. Florida––like Michigan––has not put in place a set of K-12 policies and practices that are preparing most students for college and career.

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