The increase in demand on the child welfare system has been a constant problem. Shakira Lockett, 22, spent three semesters taking remedial classes before starting to work on college level courses. Lockett, who attended the Wolfson campus of Miami Dade College in downtown Miami, surpassed all odds by completing his degree in mass communication and journalism in May. Photo by Sagette Van Embden. The “13th Grade” series is the result of a collaboration between the Florida Research Reporting Center and StateImpact Florida.
Read other parts of the series. Florida's 28 public community and state universities are required to accept anyone with a high school diploma or G, E, D. Students who take remedial classes have a harder time finishing college. They must pay for these basic skills courses and the state must subsidize them. They don't receive credit to graduate from recovery classes and can't take courses that do count toward credit until their skills improve.
The result for these students is a longer path to graduating from college. Many of these students never finish their studies. The need for remedial education is a national problem. However, it's a significantly worse problem in Florida than elsewhere, despite the state's reputation as a pioneer in elementary and secondary education reform. About 54 percent of Florida students who took the state college entrance exam need to do remedial work in at least one subject.
The national average of first-time students needing rehabilitation is 40 percent. National educators are watching how Florida addresses this problem. The Sunshine State has one of the largest community and state school systems in the country. There are many factors behind the growing crisis of remedial education at Florida's community and state universities. The other important factor is more endemic to public education in Florida. Basically, there is a disconnect between what students learn in K-12 schools and what they need to succeed once they get to college.
For more than a decade, under the auspices of reform, Florida has been making dramatic changes in elementary education. This included changes to the curriculum and graduation requirements aimed at improving student performance in core subjects such as reading, mathematics, writing and science. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, became more than just a measure of student performance. The scores became a determining factor in how much state funding schools received or whether they could remain open or not. Starting this year, scores help determine teacher pay.
The main purpose of these changes was to increase the high school graduation rate, and they did. While Florida has changed the way it calculates its graduation rates, the rate increased both before and after the change. But it turns out that increasing the number of high school graduates isn't necessarily the same as producing more students who are ready for college. At the time, the state agency recommended closing what it called a “curriculum gap”, the difference between what high school students are taught and what they need to know to go to college. Among the problems identified in the OPPAGA report are the lack of rigorous requirements for graduating from high school that go hand in hand with university expectations and the need to integrate mathematics and reading to reinforce other courses, such as social studies, science and optional subjects.
The measures have only recently been implemented under a legislative mandate. Some education experts blame the FCAT. Critics say that the enormous importance of the FCAT leaves schools with no choice but to teach for the exam. One of them is Bob Schaeffer, director of public education at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. He argues that the test interferes with the ability of public schools to prepare students for college. He is a policy and research advisor to the Jeb Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization that promotes at the national level some of the changes that Bush promoted in Florida when he was governor, such as increasing the emphasis on FCAT ratings.
Ladner said that Florida's public education has made significant progress over the past decade, thanks in part to high-stakes testing. To some extent, 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 believes that it is not entirely unexpected that some of these students have difficulties at the university level. Lenore Rodicio of Miami Dade College. Photo courtesy of Miami Dade College.
In fact, the number of high school students who are prepared for college work has improved by about 10 points since 2003, when 64 percent of high school graduates failed at least one subject on the college entrance exam. Even so, state education officials recognize that the improvements haven't been up to what's needed. Recent legislative changes have addressed the problem. The changes include creating a new college level test to identify subjects in which current high school students need help before arriving at college; increasing the number of math classes that high school students must have to graduate; and evaluating students' readiness for college before 12th grade. Florida is also moving away from the FCAT and opting for something called Common Core State Standards. These are academic standards for K-12 students that are supposed to be more aligned with university standards.
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adhered to the new rules. New curricula and evaluations are being created for Florida based on these standards. Florida's university system is also renewing its own recovery courses. The goal is to use computerized classes and other specific teaching techniques aimed at teaching students the skills they need to continue their university programs. However, university educators can do little to prepare students before they arrive on their campuses. Rodicio repeats over and over again when speaking at public events.
Rodicio is the vice-chancellor for Student Achievement Initiatives at Miami Dade College. At their school, 63 percent of high school graduates take....