tampabay.com

Florida students rank low in high school reading tests

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 17, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Florida students ranked last in 2005 among 23 states that gave reading or English language arts tests required for high school graduation, with only 52 percent passing on the first try, the independent Center on Education Policy reported Wednesday.

Florida did much better, though, in mathematics. The state's first-time passing rate was 77 percent, good for 10th place.

The center's report, "State High School Exams: A Challenging Year," closely followed another report that showed Florida's ACT composite score fell this year, although the national average was the highest of any class since 1991 and the biggest annual increase in 20 years.

The two reports are among several national comparisons that have conflicted with glowing state assessments. This year, three of every four Florida public schools received grades of A or B from the state, while just 23 - a fraction of 1 percent - got F's.

The state school grades are based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the same test Florida high school students must pass to earn a diploma.

The center's report shows a first-time passing rate among 11 states requiring a reading test ranging from Florida's low of 52 percent to a high of 91 percent in Ohio.

Other states test English language arts, which can include reading, writing, grammar, literature and oral communication, instead of or in addition to reading only. The lowest first-time passing rate on those tests was 57 percent in Maryland, still better than Florida's reading rate. The highest was Georgia's 95 percent.

Florida's white students (65 percent), black students (28 percent), and Hispanic students (41 percent), ranked last in reading or English language arts in a sampling of eight states broken down by ethnicity. The 37-point gap between white and black students in Florida also was the biggest among the eight states.

Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cathy Schroeder said state officials recognize the passage rate for first-time test takers needs improving.

The Center on Education Policy's report "confirms to us what we knew all along: We need to increase the rigor and relevance of middle and high school so that our students will be prepared to succeed the very first time they take the FCAT," Schroeder said.

Legislation dubbed "A-Plus-Plus" was passed this year to help achieve that goal by various means, including requirements that high school students take a fourth year of math and focus on major fields of interest.

The state's ACT scores have declined in each of the last three years, including a decline from a 20.4 average in 2005 to 20.3 in 2006 on the college entrance test. Scores tend to drop as more students take the test and Florida's participation increased from 41 percent last year to 44 percent in 2006, Schroeder said.

Gov. Jeb Bush said he was pleased that the number of Florida students taking the ACT increased from 58,302 to 66,299.

"We must encourage all of our high school students to take these exams and prepare for the rigor of college and the work force," Bush said in a statement.