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DeVos Bemoans Grades on Nation’s Report Card, Lauds Florida Education Changes

Wikimedia Commons
Reading remains the big problem nationally, the Nation's Report Card semiannual tests found. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday called the results of the latest Nation's Report Card evidence of a country with a "student achievement crisis."

The report card is a test of fourth and eighth graders given every two years since 1990. The grades reflect student success in reading and math.

And you had to look really hard to find any of that success in this year's report card, DeVos said.  She took a swipe at educators who will do just that and miss the big picture about a lack of overall progress.

“If you just look at the numbers hard enough, they say you'll see some improvement in some subject for some students somewhere,” the education secretary said at a news conference for the release of the report card. “And that might be true, but they've missed the forest for the trees.”

She did, however, laud Florida's achievements -- despite it losing ground in reading scores in 2019.

In Florida, "doing better began with introducing education freedom, public charter schools, tax credit scholarship programs, education savings accounts, vouchers," she said. "Students in Florida have more mechanisms for education freedom than anywhere else in the country. More keys to unlock opportunities, more ways to learn and grow."

"And today, Florida students are doing better," DeVos continued. "The Sunshine State went from the bottom 10 to the top 10 by nearly every measure."

REPORT CARD DETAILS: The 2019 Nation's Report Card State-by-State and The 2019 Nation's Report Card by Large Urban Districts

DeVos, long a proponent of charter schools and other competition for the public school system, said parents who read this report card are not going to be happy.

“The numbers are reason for deep concern,” she said. “For more than three decades, I and many others have said that America's antiquated approach to education fails too many kids.”

While it is hard to derive the full picture from overall averages, and there were areas of gains among certain groups of students, DeVos painted a broader picture of failure.

"Our Nation's Report Card shows that two-thirds of American students can't read at grade level. Two out of three," she said. "And only Mississippi and D.C. saw improvement this year. Today's report card is essentially the same as the last one. And the one before that, and the one before that. In fact, student achievement hasn't changed much since 1992."

Thirty-one states had lower reading grades in tests of eighth graders, the Nation's Report Card found. Only the District of Columbia saw an increase. Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Mathematics scores had mixed results.

Reading remains the big problem nationally, with both fourth- and eighth-graders testing lower. Thirty-one states had eighth-graders take a drop in reading scores from 2017.

Florida mirrored those results.

In math, fourth-graders remained static, above the national average with a score of 246 out of 500. The national average for public schools in fourth grade is 240.

Reading, however, showed decreases that the National Center for Education Statistics called significant. Fourth-graders dropped by four points, and eighth-graders dropped three points. Both grades remained above the national average.

In Hilllsborough County, students performed worse across the board -- both grades were lower in math and reading since 2017.

Hillsborough school officials emphasized the positive, though, pointing out that its students tied for first in reading and second in math among the 27 large school districts studied nationwide. Despite the lower scores for 2019, Hillsborough remains above the national averages for 27 large, urban school districts that voluntarily take part in the semi-annual testing.

“These results show how much our schools are connected to our community,” said Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins in a written statement. “When our students, teachers and staff succeed in the classroom, it generates an economic benefit through new jobs and new opportunities. And when our community gets behind us like Hillsborough County has over the past several years, we’re able to make even more of a positive impact. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Wayne Garcia is working with the WUSF newsroom and its digital media interns for the fall 2019 semester.
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