Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Elizabeth Djinis
By Elizabeth Djinis October 17, 2022

DeSantis aimed to make Florida schools top 3 in the nation. COVID thwarted his effort

Gov. Ron DeSantis' goal seemed simple — "achieve top three status" for Florida's schools, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress and K-12 achievement rankings. 

But this promise had two challenges: First, the coronavirus pandemic put school metrics on hold for at least a year. Second, these rankings are often hyperspecific, broken down by grade and subject. DeSantis' promise doesn't specify in what category Florida will reach the top three — only that it will. 

If we account for all of the rankings DeSantis mentions, Florida made its goal in some instances and fell short in others. 

In 2019, Florida was fourth overall in K-12 achievement rankings issued by EducationWeek, an independent news organization covering K-12 education. Florida ranked behind Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia. 

In both 2020 and 2021, Florida rated No. 3 in K-12 achievement, behind Massachusetts and New Jersey. These results were calculated by examining a variety of factors, including poverty gaps, high school graduation rates and Advanced Placement test scores. A Governor's Office spokesperson also pointed to these scores as evidence of achieving the promise.

Florida's performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated program overseen by the National Center for Education Statistics, was more varied. The 2022 NAEP state rankings are not yet out, so the only NAEP metrics issued during DeSantis' administration are from 2019. (Rankings for 2020 and 2021 were not released because of the coronavirus pandemic.)

In those 2019 rankings, Florida did not earn a top three spot in any category. But it did inch closer to the top, as the fourth-highest state in fourth grade mathematics and sixth-highest state in fourth grade reading

The NAEP also tracks students in these subjects in eighth grade, and this is where Florida's scores dip. The Sunshine State's place among the 50 states was in the lower 20 in eighth grade mathematics and 22nd place in eighth grade reading.

But the real question is whether these tests fully assess where Florida stacks up nationally. The answer is unclear, said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, an organization that has criticized Florida schools' testing.

"Are any of these measures meaningful? It depends on what you want out of education," he said. "There are so many different measures, so you can easily choose those that put your proposal in the best possible light."

Florida also recently scrapped the Florida Standards Assessments tests in favor of the new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking tests, which will take place three times a year rather than once a year. The new format is designed as "three short check-ins instead of a multi-day, end-of-year, high-stakes test," according to a state press release.

The new 35-to-40-question tests covering reading and mathematics will be administered to students in prekindergarten through 10th grade. 

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and top Republicans in the Legislature backed the format change. The end of the Florida Standards Assessments comes after DeSantis' repeated calls to end standardized state testing. At the press conference announcing the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking bill's signing into law, the governor said he had come to "not to praise, but to bury" the Florida Standards Assessments. 

The testing change stands to affect Florida's future national education rankings. 

Generally, Schaeffer said, Florida tends to fall somewhere "in the middle of the pack" when it comes to national rankings by state. But Florida's national position has become harder to quantify given the COVID-19-prompted data dearth during DeSantis' administration. Schaeffer calls information from 2021 "not reliable" because each state has handled schooling during the pandemic so differently. 

In the end, because the governor achieved two top three rankings in two separate years, we rate DeSantis' promise Compromise.

Our Sources

Phone interview, Bob Schaeffer, FairTest director of public education, June 21, 2022

National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation's Report Card

EducationWeek, State grades on K-12 achievement: map and rankings, Sept. 3, 2019

EducationWeek, Nation gets a C-minus on K-12 achievement: 2020, Sept. 1, 2020

EducationWeek, State grades on K-12 achievement: 2021 map and rankings, September 1, 2021

EducationWeek, Sources and Notes: How we graded the states (Quality counts 2021), January 19, 2021

The Nation's Report Card, State profiles: Florida, 4th grade reading, 8th grade reading, 4th grade mathematics, 8th grade mathematics 

ABC Action News: WFTS Tampa Bay, FSA testing ends in Florida after Gov. DeSantis signs bill in St. Pete, March 15, 2022

Office of the Governor, Governor DeSantis Signs Groundbreaking Legislation to Make Florida a National Leader by Eliminating High-Stakes Testing, press release, March 15, 2022

Pinellas County Schools, Florida Assessment of Student Thinking

WPTV West Palm Beach, Florida Standards Assessments officially eliminated, replaced with progress monitoring system, March 15, 2022

Email interview, Jeremy Redfern, deputy press secretary, Executive Office of the Governor, Oct. 14, 2022

Latest Fact-checks