Fact check: Is Jeb Bush right about Hispanic students’ achievement in Florida?

During a speech at the Detroit Economic Club last week, Jeb Bush veered from topics strictly fiscal. He touted his record improving Florida’s schools during his time in the governor’s office, including claiming that Hispanics in the state were “two grade levels ahead of the average.”

Bush said:

“We grade schools in Florida to have true accountability so moms and dads know exactly where schools stand. We raised expectations and standards, and we assessed faithfully to those standards. We made sure that every child counted in the system, that they weren’t cast aside if they were struggling readers or had problems. We eliminated social promotion in third grade, this insidious policy that exists in the country where, if you’re functionally illiterate, you’re passed along to fourth grade, where the gaps begin to grow and grow and grow, and the social costs grow as well.”

Among the results of those reforms, he included:

“Florida’s Hispanic kids are the best of any group of Hispanic students in the United States, in fact two grade levels ahead of the average.”

Bush echoed the findings of a 2010 report from the Heritage Foundation, which reads:

“Today, the average Hispanic student in Florida scores almost the equivalent of two grade levels higher than the average for his peers around the country.”

That report looks at scores from 2009, when Florida’s Hispanic fourth-graders outscored Hispanic students nationally on a test of reading skills. It was true again for Florida’s Hispanic fourth-graders on that same test in 2013. In those two years, Florida’s Hispanic students outscored fourth-graders as a whole nationwide.

Florida’s Hispanic fourth- and eighth-graders have scored higher than Hispanic students nationally on every national math and reading exam they have taken since 2003.

To say they’re the “best of any group of Hispanic students in the United States” might be a stretch, though. In 2009 and 2013, Hispanic fourth-graders in Florida did have the higher average reading scores than Hispanics in any other state. Yet, in 2011, Hispanic students in Kentucky and Maryland scored higher. In math, Hispanic fourth-graders in at least three other states scored as high or higher than their peers in Florida in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

By the eighth grade, however, Florida’s Hispanic students are far from the very front of the pack. In 2013, 18 states saw their Hispanic students score higher on the national math tests, while 11 states did as well or better than Florida on the reading tests. That’s up from 2009, when Hispanic eighth-graders in three states did as well or better than Florida’s on national reading exams and nine states where eight-graders did as well or better in math.

Can the above-average scores that Florida’s Hispanic students receive on these national tests be attributed to Bush’s reforms? It’s hard to say.

On the 1998 reading test, Hispanic fourth-graders were already scoring higher than Hispanic students nationally, but by only about half a grade level instead of nearly two grade levels.

Hispanic eighth-graders scored two points behind the national average on that same exam. On the 1996 math exams, Hispanic students in Florida scored two points ahead of the national average in both fourth- and eighth-grade math.

Since 2003, fourth-grade reading scores for Florida’s Hispanic students have risen twice as fast as for Hispanics nationally.

But on every other exam — fourth-grade math and eighth-grade math and reading — the national average for Hispanics has risen faster than average scores in Florida.