Test showing Florida students faring poorly misses Alachua County

Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.

Florida students scored below the national and the world averages on international exam measuring math, reading and science literacy, but those results don’t reflect Alachua County.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a test given every three years to a sample of about 500,000 15-year-old students in 60 countries, representing about 90 percent of the world’s economy.

PISA is administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 34 industrialized countries. The test, given last year, has been conducted every three years since 2000.

Alachua County students have never taken the test, said Steven Stark, director of research, assessment, student information and zoning for Alachua County Schools.

This year, PISA results in the U.S. were broken out for three states -- Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida.

While the breakout scores showed Florida lagging behind the U.S. average, the two other state averages and well behind the rest of the world’s scores, Stark said the scores aren’t an accurate description of education in Florida.

About two dozen students at high schools in Polk and Lake counties took the PISA in 2012, he said.

“There’s no measure of what we can do,” Stark said. “I just don’t see that it makes any difference with us.”

Stark said the district tends to give more weight to the results of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge exams, because those programs exist in Alachua County and it’s a better measure of how local students are doing.

Alachua County students sometimes take the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

“The PISA, while it’s amusing and it looks good . . . it has no impact on instruction in our county,” Stark said.

While the breakout results may not be an accurate representation of students in each state, the national results are still highly regarded by education officials when comparing the U.S. to other countries.

Results of the 2012 test showed no significant changes in the United States compared to the 2009 exam, but while the U.S. is stagnating, more countries are pulling ahead.

The U.S. now ranks 26th in math out of the 34 OECD countries, 17th in reading and 21st in science.

Another highlight: Although American students had only average scores compared to other OECD countries, they might be happier.

About 80 percent of American students reported feeling happy at school, 81 percent feel satisfied at school and that they belong there, 88 percent make friends easily and 74 percent feel conditions are ideal at their school.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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