FL 2030 BenchmarksNews

Half of Florida’s Third Graders Are Reading at Grade Level – The Path to Prosperity at Risk for Nearly 111,000 Third Graders

Kyle Baltuch during the Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2023 Florida Learners to Earners Workforce Solution Summit in Tampa.

The Florida Chamber Foundation created the Florida 2030 Blueprint with one goal in mind– outline a path for Florida leaders to help lead the effort in Florida becoming the 10th largest economy in the world by 2030.

As part of that effort, it is vital we ensure Florida has a talent development pipeline that produces the workforce necessary to drive those economic outcomes, and no milestone on that educational journey is more important than third-grade reading.

Today, only half of Florida’s third graders are reading at grade level, a drop of 3% compared to 2022. While a new test was administered this year, making direct comparisons tenuous, this equates to nearly 111,000 third-grade readers behind in their learning journey. In a disturbing trend, this is the 3rd consecutive year for which the percentage of Florida’s third graders reading at grade level experienced a decrease and the lowest mark we have seen, according to TheFloridaScorecard.org, since 2015.

While this frightening statistic should raise alarm bells, not all hope is lost, and there are positive points worth highlighting.

A handful of rural school districts made incredible strides over the past year. For example, Glades County saw third-grade reading scores increase by 15 percentage points over the year and now has 58% of third graders reading at grade level. Additionally, Bradford, Lafayette, and Liberty Counties all experienced an increase of 8 percentage points.

On the other end of the spectrum, a number of larger school districts experienced setbacks over the past year. While the rural community of Dixie had the biggest decrease at 12 percentage points, larger school districts like Escambia, Lee, Palm Beach, Polk, and St. Lucie all saw the percentage of third-grade readers at grade level drop by 6 percentage points. The smaller communities of Holmes and Okeechobee joined this cohort at a 6-percentage point decrease as well.

One final point worth noting is the sharp improvement Florida’s third graders made throughout the year. With the passage and implementation of “Progress Monitoring,” this is the first year Florida students were measured on their proficiency at multiple points throughout the year, three times to be exact. At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, only 22% of third graders were reading at grade level. By the end of the year, that figure had more than doubled to the 50% figure we are reporting today. Among Florida’s county-based school districts, the largest gains between the first test and third test were Glades County (16% 1st test, 58% 3rd test, 42% gain), Baker County (22% 1st test, 63% 3rd test, 41% gain) and Liberty County (18% 1st test, 59% 3rd test, 41% gain).

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida Business Alliance for Early Learning Project is leading the Florida 2030 Blueprint goal of ensuring 100% of Florida’s third graders are reading at grade level by 2030. As we strive to ensure all students in Florida are reading at grade level, we encourage you to take action in your community. Visit TheFloridaScorecard.org to find out where your community stands, and get involved with our Project’s efforts to improve third-grade reading outcomes by contacting Zenani Johnson at zjohnson@flchamber.com.

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