Florida's Fourth And Eighth Graders See Drop In Reading Proficiency, DeVos Blames 'Bureaucracy'

Oct 30, 2019

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listening to President Donald Trump during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Washington.
Credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo

Over the past two years, Florida’s fourth and eighth-graders have seen a drop in reading proficiency.

The National Assessment of Educational progress, otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card, tests students nationwide every two years and ranks states in terms of progress in various subjects using its own 500-point scale.

This year, fourth graders dropped 3 points from 2017, and eight graders 4 points in the same time frame – which the organization calls a significant change.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos places blame for lagging statistics nationwide on how money flows in public schools.

“Over the past 30 years, per-pupil spending has skyrocketed. A massive increase in spending to buy flat lined achievement. It just doesn’t add up,” DeVos said at the NAEP results review in Washington, D.C. “So where does the money go? Here’s a dirty little secret: Highly-paid administrators, coordinators, consultants, assistant principals, assistant superintendents; layers and layers and layers of bureaucracy.”

In terms of average score, mathematics in the two grade levels stayed level from 2017 – though more Florida eighth grade students this year showed mastery of the subject.

The NAEP data shows narrowing achievement gaps across reading and math. In both subjects, black students in fourth grade narrowed the gap between their white counterparts by eight and seven points, respectively. 

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says Florida’s results show an urgent need to raise expectations.

“I share Governor (Ron) DeSantis’ vision to make Florida the Education State and make Florida number one in all metrics of student achievement,” Corcoran said in a statement. “Florida’s NAEP results have relatively flat lined. We are No. 6 in fourth grade reading and No. 4 in fourth grade math.”

The U.S. education secretary did go on to praise Florida's school choice landscape during the NAEP event, after slamming spending in the public school arena nationwide.

"Students in Florida have more mechanisms for educational freedom than anywhere else in the country," DeVos, a frequent vocal advocate of school choice, said. "Today, Florida students are doing better."