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Assessing College Readiness...

Sweeping changes in national standardization will soon come to bear on the American K-12 educational system. The scope of these changes is not located necessarily in their push for standardization, but instead in the high levels of academic rigor they hope to establish in an effort to better prepare American students for an education beyond high school.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have their origins in the late 1980s, when the National Governors Association (NGA) first took control over shaping the future of American educational policy (Shanahan). Within the space of a few years, systems in all fifty states had designed their own sets of standards--though academic rigor in the fields of math, science, reading, and writing was generally uneven. Some states pushed to enact very high standards as early as 1993, with Massachusetts seeing student achievement levels that have become the envy of our national education model.

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Things became complicated along the way, as 2002's No Child Left Behind act tied federal funding to educational progress. As some schools (and entire districts) struggled to meet the federal benchmarks, we discovered that "the result wasn't higher achievement, however. Instead of working more diligently to meet these standards, most states simply reduced their already low criteria to keep the federal dollars flowing" (Shanahan 5).

Fast forward twenty years and you'll find that forty-six states and the District of Columbia have now agreed to adopt all or part of the CCSS initiative. While some detractors have called this movement a corporate approach to homogenizing education (and indeed, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the initiative's most ardent supporters), the National Governors Association insists that teachers will keep their autonomy in the classroom:
  • Fact: The best understanding of what works in the classroom comes from the teachers who are in them. That's why these standards will establish what students need to learn, but they will not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards. (Shanahan 5)
Florida has decided to move in the opposite direction, as Rick Scott's administration rejected an adoption of the CCSS initiative, pushing instead for a more "Florida-centric" set of measurements. This comes at the same time that the Florida legislature has abolished mandatory remedial classes for students testing below college-ready levels for admission to one of our state's twenty-eight state colleges.

These decisions will have far-reaching impacts for the students we serve at Florida State College at Jacksonville (and our other twenty-seven member institutions across the state). With more than half of our students entering the college in need of some form of remediation (most frequently in math, but also in reading and writing proficiencies as well), I think we will see a reduction in overall student achievement rates as students forgo these important classes that help them build a foundation for success. In a freshman college writing class, for instance, our aim is not to teach punctuation, mechanics, spelling, and grammar. Those are fundamental skills that students should possess prior to admission in order to have success in classes that instead teach rhetorical methods, critical analysis, and professional writing competencies. Educators will not deviate from the traditional curriculum in order to teach materials that were previously offered in ENC 0020 and ENC 0021--a pair of courses on basic writing fundamentals (sentence to paragraph composition, for instance).

FSCJ defines student success as successfully completing a course with a minimum of a 'C' grade or better. I expect, beginning with student groups that we will see in January of 2014, that those aggregate success rates will begin to drop as students opt out of college preparatory classes. The outcome for the individual who does not achieve success at our institution could be devastating, both psychologically and materially. Students that do not pass a course twice must pay out-of-state tuition, more than tripling the cost of attending school.

And this says nothing of their ability to garner financial aid with such poor student progress.

The stakes are high in Florida. In my view, there is more uncertainty in the future about where our educational system is going than at any other time in my eight years here. But what do things look like for the rest of the country and, in all actuality, how prepared are our students for success in higher education?

Educators in American high schools generally believe that they are doing a good job of preparing students for success in higher education, but statistics from the U.S. Department of Education suggest otherwise. In a report filed shortly after the No Child Left Behind legislation went into action, it was found that only "70% of all students in public high schools graduate, and only 32% of all students leave high school qualified to attend four-year colleges" (Greene and Forster).

When those statistics were revisited two years later, the findings were a bit more positive:
  • Nationally, the percentage of all students who left high school with the skills and qualifications necessary to attend college increased from 25% in 1991 to 34% in 2002. The finding of flat high school graduation rates and increasing college readiness rates is likely the result of the increased standards and accountability programs over the last decade, which have required students to take more challenging courses required for admission to college without pushing those students to drop out of high school. (Greene and Winters)

Did increasing academic standards ultimately lead to better student preparation? That's a pretty interesting question if you participate in the system (and almost all of us have a stake in this, from taxpayers to parents to the children attempting to earn an education) and are concerned about America's future... 

Those figures account for students entering four-year colleges, where admissions standards are more rigorous and access to a higher education becomes more competitive than what we see at an open-admissions institution such as FSCJ. I have not yet worked with freshman as an educator at the University of Central Florida, and so I can't estimate with any accuracy the preparation levels of that student population, but I do think that the students I work with in ENC 1101 at FSCJ generally exceed that level. In other words, I do believe that more than 32% of my students come into my English Composition I classroom with a set of skills that will allow them to earn a 'C' grade or better before moving forward with their educations. Many of my current students, however, are hovering at the borderline for student success. Attendance issues, missed or late assignments, and the proverbial "life issues" always play a large role in determining student success, of course.

Influential universities and colleges are now devoting a considerable number of resources to the problem of coordinating our national K-12 education system with our institutions of higher learning:

But as I personally learn more about the CCSS and the changes being made throughout K-12 and higher education, both locally and nationally, I thought I'd like to solicit further commentary on these topics. The poll below is open to all; of course, it's merely an informal poll. I encourage students and parents to participate with comments, but I'm especially interested in what those working in education think about these developments.

Please don't hesitate to leave comments or thoughts in the forum below based on these (or any other) questions:
  • Is adopting the CCSS a good move for the future of American education?
  • Are the students that you are working with adequately prepared to experience success in your classrooms, either at the secondary or post-secondary level?
  • How can America do a better job of preparing students to "gain full access to our country’s economic, political, and social opportunities"?
Please also take a moment to record your views on the survey found here.
Works Cited

"About the Standards." Common Core State Standards Initiative. 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Caputo, Marc. "Read Rick Scott's Common Core letters, order. A Jeb Bush dis? Not quite. Will Legislature abide? Yes." The Miami Herald Blog, 23 Sep. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Ellis, Rehema. "Massachusetts boosts academic success with tough standards." NBC Nightly News, 7 Oct. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Greene, Jay P. and Greg Forster. "Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates in the United States." Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Sep. 2003. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Greene, Jay P. and Marc Winters. "Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates: 1991-2002." Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Feb. 2005. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities. Stanford Graduate School of Education. 2012. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Lawrence, Julia. "Gap Between Perception and Reality in College Readiness Remains Wide." Education News, 23 May 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Ordway, Denise-Marie. "Florida colleges to drop remedial classes for thousands." The Orlando Sentinal, 3 Jun. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Strauss, Valerie. "Why I Oppose Common Core standards: Ravitch." The Washington Post: The Answer Sheet, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.