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Press Release

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

DOE Press Office
(850) 245-0413

Florida Department of Education’s Year in Review

~ State education system continues to achieve success amid challenging year ~

TALLAHASSEE — State Board of Education Chairman T. Willard Fair and Education Commissioner Dr. Eric J. Smith summarized 2009 as a year of challenge and triumph for Florida’s education system today. Throughout the year, results from national and state measures showed that, despite the current economic downturn, students were able to build upon the state’s decade-long march of academic progress.

"I’m proud of our teachers and school leaders who have successfully pushed the envelope in all facets of education," said Chairman Fair. "Through sheer determination and a commitment for success, they brushed aside the challenges we faced and focused on what counts the most – our students.”

The year began with reason to celebrate when overall state scores in Education Week’s 2009 Quality Counts Report showed that Florida’s education system was tied for 10th in the nation based on the publication’s six quality measures. The report, regarded as a truly holistic review of available state education programs, further solidified Florida’s standing as a national leader in academic progress despite challenging economic times.

“Each of our school districts, state colleges and workforce centers has been tasked with very tough and restrictive financial conditions over the last few years,” said Commissioner Smith. “The results we saw this year indicate that our instructors and educational administrators have made the right choices, and our students continue to benefit.”

On the heels of Quality Counts, Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) program announced results demonstrating the initiative continues to successfully prepare the state’s youngest students for kindergarten. According to statewide assessments, more than 92 percent of students who completed Florida’s VPK program last year demonstrated overall classroom readiness compared to 83 percent of students who did not attend VPK.

As the year progressed and state assessment results were released, it became evident that students and teachers alike were clearing the hurdles in front of them. According to 2009 FCAT results, the percentage of students in grades three through 10 reading at or above grade level rose to 61 percent this year, up 14 percentage points since 2001. The percentage of students demonstrating math skills at or above grade level rose to 67 percent from 50 percent in 2001, continuing Florida’s strong academic progress over the last decade.

The state’s average SAT score also rose two points, despite an all-time record number of students taking the exam. The strong progress was led by Florida’s African-American and Hispanic students whose SAT reading and math scores were seven and 42 points higher than their national counterparts, respectively. Additionally, Florida saw the greatest increase among all states in the number of Advanced Placement (AP) test-takers for the fourth year in a row, while also experiencing a 13.7 percent increase in the number of AP exams being scored three through five, compared to a 9.4 percent increase for the nation.

National analysis also demonstrated the continued long-term academic progress of Florida’s minority students The National Center for Education Statistics report listed Florida as one of only three states in the nation to close the long-term achievement gap between Black and White fourth-graders in reading and one of only 15 states to close the gap in math.

The number of high performing Florida schools (receiving an “A” or “B” grade from the state) reached an all time high at 2,316 this year up from 2,127 in 2008. In addition, the state’s lowest performing schools saw marked improvement in their school grades and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) criteria met with assistance from the state’s Differentiated Accountability Program regional teams. Of the 39 schools receiving the most intensive state and district assistance last year, 31 saw increases in their school grades and overall AYP criteria met, including six schools that jumped from an “F” to an “A” and met AYP.

Florida’s School Recognition program also saw an increase in recipients this year with 2,103 schools earning an “A” or improving a letter grade from 2008, maintaining their current grade after having improved two or more grades in the prior year, raising their school improvement rating or receiving an “improving” rating. Since the program began in 1999, Florida has awarded more than $1.25 billion in school recognition dollars.

In bringing 2009 to a close, Florida announced its latest graduation rates which heralded significant gains for the state. Despite an adjustment to the calculation removing GED recipients, the state’s graduation rate still rose compared to the previous year. In fact, when recalculating the previous year’s data with the removal of GEDs, Florida’s graduation rate rose more than three percentage points compared to 2008, the highest increase seen in the last five years.

However, despite these successes there were very clear indications that much more work was needed to improve the academic performance of Florida’s high school students. In recognizing this need, the Florida Legislature passed legislation designed to dramatically improve the performance of Florida’s high school students. In June, Governor Crist signed into law the expansion of the state’s successful Differentiated Accountability program to all public schools. The signing of this bill allows every Florida public school to benefit from the strong support the program provides via direct district and state assistance.

Additionally, the State Board of Education approved a new high school grading formula in September that expands the accountability of high schools to include not only FCAT results, but other factors such as graduation rates, participation and performance in advanced coursework and the college and career readiness of students. The integrated formula for high school grading will better represent the work going on in these complex learning environments.

“There is no doubt that Florida’s education system received its fair share of triumphs this year, and all stakeholders should be proud of the work that has been done,” added Commissioner Smith. “But the greatest excitement of all lies ahead in the opportunities of next year. The federal Race to the Top competition has the potential to reinvigorate and redefine our school system. Should we be successful in our efforts to obtain these unprecedented resources, the next four years could revolutionize how we nurture, prepare and inspire the young minds that will one day inherit our great nation.”

For more information about the educational successes of 2009, visit