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Florida earns C in education; ranks 28th in nation

Florida was downgraded to a C and ranked 28th in the nation, according to a recently released national report that annually grades the performance of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the education arena. The 19th annual Quality Counts report by the Education Week Research Center (EWRC) -- more specifically titled, Preparing to Launch: Early Childhood’s Academic Countdown -- focused this year on outcomes rather than on policy and processes, basing each state’s overall grade on the average of its scores on three separate indicators. The three were Chance-for-Success, K-12 Achievement and School Finance. The report describes Chance-for-Success as an index that provides a cradle-to-career perspective on the role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes throughout a person's lifetime. It describes the school finance analysis as an assessment of spending patterns and equity. And it describes the K-12 Achievement Index as a rating of each state’ current academic performance, its changes over time and its poverty-based gaps. Florida received a C in Chances of Success (putting it in 34th place nationwide), a D+ in school finance (37th place nationwide), and a C in K-12 Achievement (7th place), accounting for its overall grade of C and 28th place ranking. Florida’s grade and ranking are widely viewed as a significant comedown from recent years, when the state was rated a B and ranked among the top 10 in the country. State officials’ response to the report, typically a point of pride in the past, has generally been to emphasize the 7th place ranking in K-12 Achievement and ignore or downplay the scores in the other two indices. "Today's news is evidence that the state's focus on student achievement is working and Florida has a good return on its investment in education,” Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is quoted saying about the K-12 ranking. “We must continue to build on the success we have achieved." Part of the explanation for Florida’s decline in ranking resides in the fact that, unlike in previous years, when the report focused in part on state policies, which played well with Florida’s standards-based reform efforts, the analysis this year ignored state policies in its calculations. The experts say Florida’s overall score was also hurt by the D+ it received for student spending, compared to a C for the nation. Florida was reportedly ranked 50th on student spending but first on equitably dividing its funding among its county school districts, whether they were poor or wealthy. The top-ranked state this year was Massachusetts, with a score of 86.2 and a grade of B. The lowest ranked was Mississippi, with a score of 64.2 and a grade of D. According to the EWRC, the overall findings from Quality Counts indicate that some states perform consistently well or poorly across the full range of graded categories. “However, a closer examination of the results reveals that most states posted a strong showing in at least one area,” the report states. “This suggests that while broad evaluations of state rankings and performance can be useful, a deeper reading of the results presented in this State Highlights Report provide a more nuanced perspective on the educational condition of the nation and the states.” For Quality Counts 2015, the nation as a whole received an overall grade of C and a score of 74.3 out of 100, according to the EWRC. This marks a decline from the C-plus and 76.9 score it received in 2013, when the summative grades were last issued. The EWRC took a hiatus in 2014, in terms of the report’s issuance. The EWRC notes that “just a student's first-semester grade may be based on a different mixture of assignments and exams than the second-semester grade, the 2015 summative scores are based on a different framework than those issued in 2013 so they are not necessarily comparable.” Education Week is a respected national publication read by professional educators.

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