The latest results from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) indicate that Florida students have made the largest year-to-year gains in reading since 2001. Statewide, education officials were especially proud of gains at the middle school level, where about 57% of middle school students scored at or above grade level in reading—a 6-point increase over last year.
“We have a focus like never before at the middle schools,” said Florida Education Commissioner John Winn. “The interventions that are being provided at schools continue to be effective.”
The first step toward improving reading in the middle grades came in June 2004 when Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) signed the Middle Grades Reform Act, which placed reading coaches in 240 middle schools throughout the state and provided more rigorous middle school course work to help prepare students for high school. Beginning in fall 2004, each public school with more than a quarter of its students in any grade in grades 6–8 not reading on grade level had to develop a Rigorous Reading Requirement as the primary component of its school improvement.
Under the act, schools also had to develop a Personalized Middle School Success Plan for each sixth-grade student who scored below Level 3 in reading on the FCAT. The plan detailed how the school would help improve a student’s skills and had to be developed in collaboration with the student and his or her parent and teacher.
Florida continues to build onto the Middle Grades Reform Act. Last year alone, the state hired 540 reading coaches to bring even more reading into classrooms. “We had a big reading initiative this year, with teachers undergoing comprehensive training in addition to using a progress monitoring tool to make assessments throughout the year,” Sarasota assistant superintendent Lori White told the Herald-Tribune. “It’s very encouraging.”
Based on the FCAT results, 57% of middle school students are reading at or above grade level (Level 3), a 6% increase from 2005. At the same time, the percentage of middle school students reading at the lowest level (Level 1) declined from 30% to 20%. The results also showed marked improvement on the part of minority students. This year, 39% of African-American students were reading at grade level, an increase of 13% over last year. Among Latino students, 50% were reading at grade level, compared to 35% last year.
In his state of the state address earlier this year, Governor Bush presented his “A++ Plan for Education,” which would continue to reform the middle grades but also extend into high schools. His plan would require middle school students to earn 12 credits in math, science, language arts, and social studies before they are promoted to high school. It would provide summer academies to assist struggling students who need extra help in the required subjects and intensive reading instruction for students who read below grade level. Students achieving at higher levels could take high school courses while they are still in middle school. To help make high school relevant for students, Bush would also allow students to choose a major based on their career paths and interests.
“Florida has witnessed what education reforms can do to improve student learning as evidenced by this recent success,” said Winn. “Now Governor Bush’s A++ Plan for Education will bring relevance and rigor to our middle and high schools so we may witness a high level of success for these students as well.”
Read Governor Bush’s press release at http://www.flgov.com/release/7856.