Florida’s Students Fall Behind in International Tests
Around the State
Bad news for Florida’s education system: Students in the Sunshine State who took international tests in math, reading and science last year did worse than other teens in the country and performed far worse than teenagers in the world's top-performing education systems in Asia, according to Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores released Tuesday morning.
The PISA test is used to test 15-year-old students and see whether they can apply what they know to “real-life situations.” Florida was one of three states to pay $600,000 to participate in the international test. Connecticut and Massachusetts also participated in the test.
Only 6 percent of students in the Sunshine State scored a Level 5 or above in math, while 30 percent scored at a Level 2 or below in the subject. Among all nations tested, 23 percent of students scored Level 2 or lower, and 13 percent scored at Level 5 or higher.
When it came to reading, 17 percent of Florida’s students scored at a Level 2 or below, while 6 percent scored a Level 5 or higher. This number was closest to the international result of 18 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
In science, 21 percent of Florida students scored Level 2 or lower in science, while 5 percent scored Level 5 or higher. These numbers were lower than the overall outcomes of 18 percent and 8 percent.
Shanghai dominated the test, with top-performing marks in all categories. Over the last decade, the Chinese province has climbed to the top in PISA performance as a result of focusing on teacher preparation and investing in its most challenging classrooms.
Twenty-eight countries performed better than the U.S. in mathematics, including Japan, Korea and China (Shanghai and Hong Kong, plus self-governing Singapore). Some European countries including the United Kingdom, Poland, France, Germany, as well as Latvia and Slovenia, also outperformed the U.S.
In science, 22 countries scored better than the United States, including Canada, Vietnam and Poland.
In reading, 19 countries had higher scores than U.S. students, including the Soviet Union republic of Estonia and the Central Europe principality of Liechtenstein.
While the test does have its limitations by sampling students and can't encompass all aspects of quality education, Brussels-based Education International Secretary General Fred van Leeuwen said he hopes the results would have some impact on the "enemies of public education."
"EI agrees with OECD’s strong conclusion that the quality of a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers," he said. "Countries that have improved significantly their performance over the last 10 years have established policies to improve the quality of their teaching staff by improving professional standards, increasing salaries to make the profession more attractive for new entrants into the profession and by offering incentives for teachers to engage in in-service training programs.”
The numbers could, however, spell trouble for Florida’s education system, which is currently in an overhaul to ramp up education standards to be on track with Common Core implementation by next year. Common Core, according to supporters, will help Florida’s students in being better prepared for college and careers.
Getting student performance on an international level through the standards has been discussed frequently in talks of adopting the standards. According to a report on the PISA test results, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said Common Core could help improve PISA scores in the U.S., specifically in mathematics.
StudentsFirst Florida state Director Nikki Lowrey said while Florida’s reforms have come a long way, there’s still work to be done to ensure that students in the state can keep up with their international peers.
“Today's report shows our kids are falling behind,” said Lowrey. “And while reforms are making a difference and we can all point to signs of progress we’ve made in Florida, the fact is, our students are not keeping up with the rest of the world in the classroom.
“As the rest of the world advances rapidly, we can't sit idle and make excuses for a system that fails to provide so many of our kids with great schools and great teachers. This report should motivate all of us to do better for our children -- to intensify our focus and remember what's at stake. We’re not getting to where we need to be fast enough and easing up on the gas pedal, or lowering the bar for our students, won’t help them compete in the world they’re about to inherit.”
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.