Florida's Education Record: NAEP 2022 Results
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a federal program that measures student achievement at three grades (4, 8, 12) across a range of skills, subjects and variables. In addition to the national assessment, results are provided for states, regions and a selection of school districts. These are reported using various statistics, including discrete achievement levels: Advanced, Proficient, Basic and below Basic—let us say “A”, “B”, “C”/”D”, and “D/F.” The assessments normally take place in alternate years. The pandemic caused the assessment scheduled for 2021 to be delayed until 2022. Those results are now available. Student achievement at grade 8 is a particularly important educational indicator. Eighth grade is in many ways a “gateway” to further education. And students who have not been taught basic skills in grade 8 may have difficulty acquiring them later. NAEP defines the “Basic” level for Grade 8 Reading in this way:
When Reading informational texts such as exposition and argumentation, eighth-grade students performing at the NAEP Basic level can likely:
• determine the meaning of words using context from one section of the text
• locate and use explicit details to answer specific questions and make simple inferences about the text
• determine the main idea or purpose of the text using explicit features from the text
• demonstrate a general understanding of text features or graphics
• demonstrate a general understanding of the concepts in the text but can support their understanding using only limited information from the text
• formulate an opinion about a claim or argument and support this opinion using only limited information from the text, etc.
Students who demonstrate Proficient or Advanced reading skills have mastered these sufficiently to put them to use in further educational and life contexts. We might assume that students in Grade 8 who are found to be reading at the NAEP “below Basic” level are not likely to be able to do these things. In other words, it is unlikely that they are able to make much use of written materials in school, or later at work, or in everyday and public life.
NAEP Reading results for grade 8 for Florida showed that 3% of the state’s grade 8 students had Advanced skills, 26% had Proficient skills, 39% were at the Basic level and 31% scored below Basic. This was a decline of 4 percentage points in the portion of students at Proficient and above from 2019 and a 3 percentage point increase in the portion of students found to be in below Basic category—not being able to read at the level expected in middle school.
Middle school basic skills achievement levels have dramatic social and economic consequences. Most students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels can expect to graduate from high school, continue their education into college and, for those at the Advanced level, probably on to college graduation and higher degrees. Those found to read at the Basic level may well graduate from high school and some may take college courses and may even eventually earn an Associate’s degree or beyond. Those middle schools students unable to read at the Basic level are unlikely to graduate from high school with meaningful diplomas. The National Center for Education Statistics (sponsor of the NAEP) calculates that median annual earnings of full-time, year-round workers ages 25-34 by educational attainment in 2020 were: Less than high school $29,800, high school completion $36,600, some college, no degree $39,900, Associate’s degree $44,100, BA $59,600, Master’s or higher $69,700. If a typical working life may extend to 40 years, these earnings become a cumulative $1,192,000 (no diploma); $1,464,000 (high school diploma); $1,596,000 (some college); $1,764,000 (Associate’s degree); $2,384,000 (BA) and $2,788,000 (MA +). The difference in working-life-long earnings between Proficiency and below Basic reading skills at grade 8 can amount to more than a million dollars, not to mention the loss in civic participation, the increased chances of incarceration, worse health, shorter lifespans, the decrease in possibilities for cultural enrichment, which are, in many cases, associated with lower degrees of educational attainment, all of which become a negative inheritance for the next generation.
There were approximately 221,000 eighth grade students in Florida in 2022. 75,000 of the state’s grade 8 students were found to read at the Proficient or Advanced categories and 62,000 students scored below Basic. One might imagine them sitting in a stadium, the announcer saying: “Look to your left, look to your right. One of you will be taught to read well in middle school, one will not be taught to read at grade level, the other will be taught to read with some difficulty.” Of course there is no American stadium that large, but there are quite a few that could be nearly filled with the students not taught to reach Basic grade 8 reading skills.
Although it is the goal of public education to educate all students to Proficiency in basic skills, or, at least, to a basic grasp of them, it is widely believed that family economic background may overwhelm the efforts of schools. NAEP provides a means to test this belief, dividing results by eligibility of the National School Lunch Program as a proxy for household income. Those eligible for the Program have incomes less than $51,000 for a family of four, approximately twice the national poverty level. In Florida in 2022, 40% of those whose family income was such as to make them ineligible for the Program reached the Proficient level (including those at the Advanced level), while just 23% failed to reach the Basic level. In contrast, those students from less prosperous families, eligible for the program, reached Proficiency or above half as often (21%) and were left below Basic nearly twice as often (38%). These economic class differences are one challenge schools must meet in order to accomplish their mission of educating all students well.
Considering student achievement by racial and ethnic categories is problematic for the country as a whole and especially so for Florida. Nevertheless, NAEP reports these as White, Black, Hispanic and Asian and Pacific Islander. Given those classifications, of the approximately 221,000 eighth grade students in Florida, 6,100 were Asian, 78,000 Hispanic, 46,000 Black and 81,000 were said by NAEP to be White. In 2022, according to NAEP, 44% of grade 8 Black students had not been taught to read at grade level, while 16% were at Proficient or Advanced: the difference in working-life-earnings for Florida’s Black community between what those students not taught to reach Basic reading skills in grade 8 and what they would have earned if they had been Proficient would be more than $20 billion. Of Hispanic students, 31%, read at Proficient or Advanced, while 30% were below Basic, a loss to the state’s Hispanic community approximately equal to that for the Black community, or a billion dollars a year for the two groups together over the span of a typical working life. Asian and Pacific Islander students at the Proficient or Advanced levels were 46%, while 18% were not reading at grade level, a potential loss to that community of one billion dollars over 40 years. White students not being taught to reach the Basic level comprised 28% of the total, while 34% reached Proficiency or above, a loss of nearly 23 billion dollars in potential earnings.
Such are the consequences, by a crude economic measure, of the state of Florida not adequately supporting the basic skills education of nearly half its Black children, a third of its Hispanic children, a fifth of its Asian children and more than a quarter of its White children.
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NAEP provides results for three Florida school districts: Duval County, Hillsborough County and Miami-Dade. In 2022, 31% of Miami-Dade students in grade 8 were at the Proficient or Advanced level, a larger proportion than the state average. Hillsborough was at the state average for Proficient and Advanced, while Duval County, was two percentage points lower than the state average for Proficiency at grade 8 in 2022. Hillsborough failed to teach exactly one-third, 33%, of its students to read at the the Basic level, 2 percentage points more than the state average, while Miami-Dade had 3 percentage points fewer and Duval 3 percentage points more than the state average of students who were not taught to read at grade level. (In general, results for these districts had declined one or two points from those in 2019.)
We can then calculate the career earning losses from the potential that might have been realized if all the children in each of these districts who had not been brought to the Basic level in reading were taught to be Proficient in reading at grade 8.
Hillsborough County left almost exactly half (49%) of its Black students below Basic for reading in grade 8, as well as more than a third (36%) of its Hispanic students, giving a projected loss of $4 billion to the county over their working-lives, to which might be added another $1.3 billion for the nearly a quarter of its White grade 8 students left behind. Duval County left nearly half (46%) of its Black students below Basic for reading in grade 8, as well as 41% of its Hispanic students, giving a projected loss of $2.4 billion to the county over their working-lives, to which might be added another half billion dollars for the 18% of its White grade 8 students left behind (And $73 million for the same percentage of Asian students). Miami-Dade left nearly one-third (31%) of its Black students below Basic for reading in grade 8, as well as 28% of its Hispanic students, giving a projected loss of $7 billion for the two to the county over their working-lives, to which might be added another 200 million dollars for the 12% of its White grade 8 students left behind. (NAEP found too few Asian students in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade to report assessment results.)
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These losses to the Florida and these three districts of the potential earnings of its students will affect over-all economic development, tax income, and the quality of life in the state, in general, as well as the human development potential of the young people in question. The disparate achievement levels for the race and ethnic groups, paradoxically, points to a way forward. If, for example, Duval, Hillsborough and the rest of the state were to do as well for their Black students as has Miami-Dade, another 13% of those students would have Basic reading skills. Similar outcome improvements could be attained for all students in the state by a relatively simple “leveling up” effort. If the quality of teaching in Miami-Dade is good for its students, why not for all of Florida’s students? It is true that Miami-Dade’s per pupil expenditure is currently higher than that of the other two at $10,500, while Hillsborough was at $9,400 and Duval, $9,300, but those differences were decisions made by the districts and not in the great scheme of things that large.
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That would be a beginning. It would leave a long way to go for educational equity, at a minimum, and state-wide excellence for all students, as a goal. However, rather than leave on the table the billions of dollars of wasted potential, would it not be far better to make investments of a similar magnitude in the futures of the state’s children, in the future of the state of Florida?