Student Achievement in Michigan and Florida

The foregoing data indicate that on average, Michigan schools spent more per pupil, compensated each teacher more and enrolled fewer children from low-income families than Florida schools did. The following analysis compares the achievement of Michigan’s students to that of Florida’s over the past 10 to 15 years.

To compare the achievement of Michigan’s and Florida’s school systems, this report uses scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s math and reading tests[*] for fourth- and eighth-grade students from 1996 to 2011 — in other words, from the mid-1990s, when Florida began its reforms, until the most recent year for which the relevant NAEP data are available.[†] The report also presents the national average for these tests to provide context.[‡]

Note that NAEP provides state-level assessments in other subjects, such as economics, geography, science and writing. NAEP tests 12th-graders periodically as well. The present analysis is limited to reading and math, however, because these are the most consistently tested subjects,[§] and because since 2002, the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act has required all states to participate in NAEP biennially in both reading and math for fourth and eighth grades.[¶]

Given the statistical relationship between a student population’s socioeconomic status and its average performance on standardized tests, this report analyzes the average score both for all students and for only those students qualifying for a free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program.

[*] Representative samples of students from all 50 states take the same NAEP tests, and this provides a baseline for comparison among them. NAEP began conducting state-level assessments in 1990. For more information, see “About State NAEP,” (U.S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2010), (accessed May 31, 2013). NAEP scores in math and reading are based on a 0 to 500 point scale. Ten scale score points on a NAEP exam translate to roughly one grade level worth of additional learning. For instance, the average 2009 NAEP math score was 240 for U.S. fourth-graders and 283 for U.S. eighth-graders — a difference of 43 points. For more information, see “What Does the NAEP Mathematics Assessment Measure?,” (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), (accessed May 31, 2013); Matthew Ladner, “Lessons for Tennessee from Florida’s Education Revolution,” (The Foundation for Educational Choice, 2011), 3, (accessed May 31, 2013).

NAEP also places student scores in four categories: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The performance of Michigan and Florida relative to these categories is discussed briefly in “Comparing the Conditions and the Results.”

[†] A small number of the pre-2002 NAEP scores reported below result from tests that did not permit accommodations for students with special needs. The author used scores from tests that permitted accommodations whenever possible. 

[‡] Scores from NAEP’s “national public” dataset are used to represent the national average. Since state data provided by NAEP is from public school students only, this is the best comparative data. Scores from Florida and Michigan contribute to this national average score. “National Assessment of Educational Progress: Frequently Asked Questions,” (National Center for Education Statistics; United States Department of Education, 2012), (accessed March 19, 2013).

[§] NAEP did not administer tests in these subjects every year in every state — in fact, participation in NAEP used to be entirely voluntary — so data are not available in each year over this time period. “NAEP: Measuring Student Progress Since 1964,” (U.S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), (accessed May 31, 2013).

[¶] Technically, only states that accepted certain types of federal funding (Title I) are required to administer the NAEP reading and math tests to fourth- and eighth-graders every two years, but all states accept Title I funding, so they all administer these NAEP tests. Participation in other subjects remains truly voluntary. “Important Aspects of No Child Left Behind Relevant to NAEP,” (U.S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2005), (accessed May 31, 2013); “About State NAEP,” (U.S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2010), (accessed May 31, 2013).