Florida DOE Spikes the Football on Grad Rates While College Remediation Rates Soar


The Florida Department of Education patted itself on the back late last week on improving graduation rates all the while hoping nobody calls them on the number of those graduates need remediation when they get to college. But StateImpact reporters McNelly Torres and Lynn Waddel have a timely piece which does just that.

Florida’s K-12 public education system has graduated hundreds of thousands of students in the past decade who couldn’t read, write or solve math problems well enough to take some college-level courses.

 More than half of high school graduates who took the college placement test in the 2010-2011 school year found out they had to take at least one remedial course in college to boost basic skill. These students couldn’t pass at least one subject on the placement exam used to assess the abilities of incoming students.

 Florida’s 28 public community and state colleges are required to accept anyone with a high school diploma or G.E.D.

 Students taking remedial classes have a harder time getting through college. They must pay for — and the state must subsidize – these basic-skills courses. They do not receive credit toward graduation for remedial classes, and can’t take courses that do count for credit until their skills improve. The result for these students is a longer path to graduating college.

Many of those students never complete their studies.

 The need for remedial education is a nationwide problem. But it’s a significantly worse problem in Florida than elsewhere, despite the state’s reputation as a pioneer in overhauling K-12 education.

 Some 54 percent of Florida students who took the state college placement test need remedial work in at least one subject. The national average for first-time students needing remediation is 40 percent.

 Demand for remedial courses in Florida has doubled since 2007.

Most disturbing in all this is the attitude of Jeb Bush’s foundation. While most educators point to the state’s excessive focus on FCAT, Bush policy wonk, Matt Ladner says otherwise.

Matthew Ladner disagrees. He’s a policy and research adviser for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization that promotes nationally some of the changes Bush pushed in Florida while he was governor – like increasing emphasis on FCAT scores. Ladner said Florida’s public education has made significant gains in the past decade, thanks in part to high-stakes testing.

 “I think people are throwing out the baby with the bath water,” Ladner said. “If you think about what Florida was like before the FCAT, Florida was one of the lowest-ranked states in the country on NAEP.” The NAEP is a national assessment provided to students in grades, 4, 8 and 12 to track student academic progress over time.

 To some degree, according to Ladner, Florida’s public education system may be a victim of its own success. He credits the FCAT for increasing the number of high school graduates. Ladner sees it as not altogether unexpected that some of those students would struggle at the college level.

 “When you have a substantial increase in graduation rates and you have an increase of kids taking college placement exams, some of these problems would become natural,” Ladner said, referring to the large number of students who can’t pass the college placement exam. “It’s not to diminish that remediation is a problem.”

Ladner’s salary is paid for by the company who creates FCAT in Pearson. It is he who cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. Ladner’s spin, though predictable, isn’t credible. FairTests Bob Schaeffer says why:

“When K-12 classes focus on preparation for a narrow, flawed FCAT exam, students are denied the opportunity to master the more sophisticated content and higher-level thinking skills they need to succeed as undergraduates or in the workforce,” Schaeffer said. “The huge percentage of Florida high school graduates who must take remedial courses in college is yet another example of the failure of FCAT-driven public education.”

Ladner, who clearly speaks for his boss, is being extremely cavalier about the Florida students who have been fed a steady diet of multiple choice FCAT curriculum only to find themselves not ready to succeed in the workforce.

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About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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