A new report from the Alaska Policy Forum breaks the ongoing struggles of Alaska students and compares them to similarly situated students in Florida who are excelling in academics.

The report looks at data from the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which provides a snapshot of how pandemic school closures impacted students.

Alaska Policy Forum’s report examines Alaska’s performance based on demographics such as students’ race/ethnicity, gender, income, disability status, and status as an English language learner (ELL). It found that Alaska children have “the potential to score much better than they currently do.”

The NAEP scores are the only consistent test by which to compare student performances across the nation. It reveals that Alaska’s fourth graders are more than a year behind the national average in reading and math, and far behind Florida, which also has an extremely diverse student population.

When it comes to special needs students, Florida students with disabilities performed just as well as Alaska’s overall average in fourth-grade reading and math.

“Florida is an excellent state to compare to Alaska because it was the first to implement both early literacy laws and school choice policies in the early 2000s,” the Alaska Policy Forum article states. “Florida’s student body is also diverse, with almost 20% of fourth graders identified as students with disabilities and 12% as English language learners. Almost 55% of Florida students are non-white, while 53% of Alaska’s students are.”

Alaska Policy Forum’s report notes that since 1998, Florida’s fourth-grade students have improved by nearly two years, while Alaska students have lost nine months of attainment since 2003.

Despite Alaska’s dismal performance, Florida offers a roadmap for the Last Frontier.

Key takeaways from the NAEP data show that Alaska was dead last in low-income fourth-grade reading, while Florida’s “low-income” fourth graders exceeded Alaska’s overall student scores in math, and nearly matched them in reading. Additionally, all ethnic groups in Alaska, apart from Hispanics, were well below the national average in fourth-grade reading and math – often by large margins.

Among low-income students, Alaska’s fourth-grade readers are the worst performing in the nation, and two years and eight months behind Florida. Even worse, Florida’s low-income students are doing almost as well as Alaska’s high-income students in reading.

“Florida’s education system is clearly doing something different and better when its low-income students are doing nearly as well as Alaska’s high-income students,” Alaska Policy Forum observes. “For fourth graders in both subjects, Florida’s average for low-income students exceeded Alaska’s average for all students.”

When it comes to special needs students, Florida students with disabilities performed just as well as Alaska’s overall average in fourth-grade reading and math.

Among students identified as English Language Learners (ELL), Florida’s fourth-grade students have a full year of reading attainment above Alaskans. In math, Florida’s ELL students have a year and almost three months of mathematics attainment above Alaska’s ELL students.

Alaska Policy Forum concludes that Florida’s success is due in part to its early literacy programs, which were implemented in 2001. Over the past two decades, this has helped funnel resources to struggling students. This has resulted in Florida students gaining two years’ worth of reading ability, while Alaska declined by nine months.

The article ends on a hopeful note, highlighting the fact that the newly passed Alaska Reads Act, which was modeled after Florida’s plan, is “likely to help Alaskan students by delivering targeted interventions to students struggling with reading, regardless of demographic factors.”

Click here to support the Alaska Watchman.

REPORT: Florida students far outperform Alaska’s

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.