Florida’s state reading results troubling: About 25% of 3rd graders could read ‘proficiently’
education, elementary school, learning and people concept - group of school kids with pens and notebooks writing test in classroom

group of school kids writing test in classroom
'Although greatly disappointed ... we are not surprised'

New results from Florida’s 3rd grade reading exams statewide aren’t good, showing that only about a quarter of kids tested in public schools could read proficiently, meaning they scored a 4 or 5 on the crucial exam.

Even a more liberal analysis by the Department of Education — one that allows kids to pass the exam with the traditional score of at least a 3 — shows a concerning picture: Just 53% of third graders could pass the 2022 reading exam, down from 54% the year before, according to statewide averages.

In fact, the state’s data shows some stagnation: The 2022 results are the same as the 3rd grade reading results back in 2015, likely in part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Teaching our children to read at grade level by grade 3 is the underpinning to every student’s pathway to lifelong success, and it is why the Grade 3 reading results decline is troubling,” Patricia Levesque, executive director of Foundation for Florida’s Future, said in a written statement responding to the reading results.

Foundation for Florida’s Future is an education-focused nonprofit founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

In Florida, the third grade reading exams are key, typically requiring 3rd graders to earn a passing grade in order to move on to fourth grade.

The results are also crucial as students move through the school system. Reading becomes a foundational tool for the rest of a student’s school career in every subject after entering the fourth grade, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A reading score of 3 is not “proficient”

Keep in mind that third grade reading scores of at least a 3 represent a passing score but it’s only a “satisfactory” effort, meaning, a student “may need additional support for the next grade/course,” according to the Department of Education.

Only scores of 4 are considered at least proficient — “likely to excel in the next grade/course.” And a score of 5 is considered mastery — that is “highly likely to excel in the next grade/course.”

In the Florida Department of Education’s analysis, 19% of 3rd graders were considered proficient on the 2022 reading exam; only 6% showed a mastery of the subject. Those two categories combined show about 25% of students were at least proficient or higher on the exam in 2022, down from 26% in 2021, based on statewide averages.

Of Florida’s 67 school districts and a handful of lab schools and other entities., the percent of proficient third grade readers in 2022 ranged from 51% to 4%.

The lab school connected to Florida State University had the highest figure for proficiency, according to department data, with 51% of 232 students earning a 4 or higher on the reading exam.

Of the standard 67 school districts, St. Johns, of North Florida, showed the highest percentage of proficiency of reading on the state exam — 41% of third graders tested earned a score of 4 or higher.

Meanwhile, in Jefferson County, a small rural school district in North Florida, 48 students took the third grade reading exam. Only 4% were considered at least proficient, the data show.

Meanwhile, only 10% of third grade students in Gadsden County School District, also in the North Florida, were considered at least proficient, out of 327 students tested. Adding in students scoring a 3, Gadsden’s overall passing rate on the reading exam was about 27%.

“Although greatly disappointed with the 2022 FSA 3rd grade reading scores, we are not surprised,” Gadsden County Superintendent Elijah Key said in a written statement Friday, noting that schools are still bouncing back from difficulties and setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The 2021-2022 school year has been a year of 1) encouraging the return of students to face-to-face instruction and 2) doubling down on instructional strategies to move students past learning regression to targeted grade-level proficiencies. It is clear we have a lot of work to do, and the job of the Superintendent is to ensure everyone is prepared for the task at hand,” Key said in the written statement.

The Hillsborough County School District had 17,256 3rd graders take the reading exam in 2022, and 23% of the students earned a 4 or 5, meaning they were at least proficient. That was lower than the statewide average of 25% proficiency.

Tanya Arja, a communication staffer with the district, said in an email to the Phoenix:

“Nearly 1,000 more third grade students were tested this year compared to last year and many of these students learned from home during some or all of 2020-2021. With now 99% of third graders tested this year, we are now finally getting a complete picture of the impacts that disrupted and at-home learning caused.”

Moving to another testing system

This is the last year that Florida students will take the Florida Standards Assessments exams, which include the 3rd grade reading exam, and the state’s education system will transition to a new, and controversial, statewide testing system that will use what’s called “progress monitoring” throughout the year.

Come next academic year, 2022-23, there will be three exams throughout the school year. Two of them are considered diagnostic exams to see how students are progressing. But the 3rd exam is the end-of-year cumulative and comprehensive assessment for reading and math.

The new assessment is called Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, or FAST. Some school districts feel it’s too early to predict how the transition from the FSA to statewide progress monitoring will affect reading scores in the future.

“At this point, it is too early to predict the impact of the new assessments,” according to a Miami-Dade communication staffer Jaqueline Calzadilla. “Next year will be a baseline year. We have to keep in mind there is always an adjustment period when we transition to new standards and assessments.”

Tanya Arja with the Hillsborough County school district said in an email to the Phoenix:

“Until students actually sit for the new test, we do not know how scores will change. We are likely going to see very similar results as the first year of this new test will be equated to spring 2022 FSA results.”

She said that the goal of the progress monitoring setup is to boost student performance by getting “critical data into the hands of teachers more quickly to inform differentiated instruction and necessary interventions throughout the school year.”

The Foundation for Florida’s Future believes that the new progress monitoring testing system will help identify students who need additional support before the final assessment, according to a Friday email.

Bob Schaeffer is the executive director of FairTest, which promotes “fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools,” among other goals.

He is skeptical, saying that the new system will “increase a focus on boosting test scores as the primary goal of education, because the end-of-the-year test is what will matter for students, teachers, schools and districts.”

“The first two waves of assessment will be used to get kids ready for the big test,” Schaeffer said.

“It’s unlikely to be an improvement of educational quality, and further turns schools into test-prep centers — where the primary focus is on the limited content that standardized tests can measure. It will further encourage you to focus on the tested material, particularly reading and in math, and further divert attention away from other important parts of learning … and it’s likely to encourage more test-specific practice — turning classrooms into test-prep factories.”

As for the final year of the Florida Standards Assessments, Schaeffer concluded:

“Good riddance. Unfortunately, the replacement is not likely to be any better.”


Danielle J. Brown reporting via Florida Phoenix.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: [email protected] Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

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Florida Phoenix is a news and opinion outlet focused on government and political news coverage within the state of Florida.


  • PeterH

    June 7, 2022 at 10:42 am

    Florida is quickly following in the footsteps of our Southern red state neighbors Alabama, Mississippi, and of course South Carolina. For every dollar perennial red State South Carolina sends to the National treasury the State receives $7.00 in return! Lindsey Graham’s South Carolina is the number one recipient of Federal dollars and Florida is number 3.

  • In the red

    June 7, 2022 at 11:22 am

    Red state
    Failed state

  • Don’t Look Up

    June 7, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    Florida is showing the stress of 20 years of Republican failed leadership. Missing from this article is the fact that Florida has been lacking in educators for quite some time. The problem started in 2016 and hasn’t been improving under DeSantis’s deliberate culture war attacks on educators and his FREEDUMB STATE OF FLORIDA.

    Florida has severe shortages of teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and other support staff needed to serve our students. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the problem, but shortages were a pre-existing condition. Florida has long-standing difficulties with retaining and recruiting public school employees.

    On the eve of a new school year in August 2031, there were nearly 9,000 vacancies for the two groups, breaking down as 4,961 teaching vacancies and 3,753 vacancies for staff.

    Florida voters can correct this dreadful course …..

  • A Ross

    June 8, 2022 at 7:04 pm

    The govt has an agenda.They are working tirelessly to abolish public education for privatization.The govt is the AUTHOR OF THE TEST and are creating TESTS that are invalid because the answer choices are designed for MAXIMUM CONFUSION. The govt wants kids to fail so they write ridiculous test that make it happen. I CALL FOUL! STOP THE MADNESS!

  • Erin Mern

    June 8, 2022 at 10:38 pm

    The reading test does not test a child’s abIlity to read words. It is higher order multi-select questions for 8 year olds. It will say “select two details that support the central message of the text” if a child picks one key detail but incorrect on the second, they get the whole question wrong. If you take the practice test as an adult, it will help you better see the cognitive complexity of these tests.
    Our sense of urgency needs to be ensuring these 3rd graders can read words fluently and accurately. Can they decode Multisyllabic words? The state reading exam does not measure foundational reading skills, only higher order comprehension of complex texts.

    I challenge the state to release the test questions so the public can judge the complexity of the text. If highly educated adults get more than one question wrong, the way the questions are worded is the problem, not the 8 year olds…

    • Noelle Knight

      June 13, 2022 at 12:52 pm

      Beautifully stated…so much of our public education is designed around critical thinking and problem solving which is a great end goal. The issue is in the fact that the students aren’t given the time to master the foundational skills required for them to apply these higher ordering thinking skills. We are pushing too much too fast for too many children. Research has shown that the developmental age range for most of these skills, including math and reading, spans multiple grades. It is unfair to expect all children of any given age to be on the same page academically. We need to stop assigning benchmarks based only on age.

  • Bea Young

    June 11, 2022 at 9:07 am

    I would be interested in knowing if the schools had certified school librarians in the school libraries. More than 30 years of research has proven that when schools have certified school librarians, student achievement improves. Test scores go up, grades are higher, students develop life long reading habits.

Comments are closed.


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