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Tampa Bay Times: Column: Too many arriving at college unprepared

Monday, December 09, 2013

By Ed Moore

If you’ve read the news recently, you’ve witnessed the backlash against the implementation of the Common Core State Standards both in Florida and across the country. These new standards have been met with opposition across the political spectrum.

What folks seem to forget is that a large percentage of Florida’s high school graduates are finding the transition into higher education increasingly difficult. In fact, too many students still leave high school unprepared to perform work at the college level.

Although college readiness numbers are showing some improvement, there is still much work to be done when it comes to getting our students ready for postsecondary education and transition into the global workforce. The recent release and coverage of dismal PISA results (Program for International Student Assessment) show U.S. students continuing to fall behind their peers around the world, while students in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore nabbed top rankings in every subject. Higher education should be to polish, enhance and enable graduates to live meaningful lives. Time spent remediating is time lost.

A report in June by the Florida College Access Network presents some sobering numbers that illustrate our state’s need for continuing support of new, effective educational standards like the Common Core. Only 69 percent of our state’s public high school graduates who enroll in college ultimately earn at least one year’s worth of college credit within their first two years. That is lost time, money and dreams.

Additionally, merely two-thirds of public high school students who entered the Florida College System were able to meet the cutoff scores on initial placement tests in math, writing and English. This means that many students must take “catch-up” courses to further prepare them before enrollment in college-level courses. State Impact Florida recently reported that in 2011, these courses cost taxpayers more than $168 million.

The Florida College Access Network study also showed that out of 100 students who began ninth grade in 2001, an average of 22 were able to graduate from high school, apply and enroll in an institution of higher learning, and finish at least a year college-level coursework in their first two years. Recent estimates have shown that this number has increased slightly to 26 out of 100 for high school students in the graduating class of 2009. Do the math: 74 percent do not even meet this low standard.

What does all this mean? Florida’s K-12 education system must continue to make adjustments and improvements in order to adequately prepare students for college success. These problematic statistics are a wake-up call. We need to invest in programs that will position our students to be competitive in college and beyond. By taking steps to implement the Common Core standards, we are investing in a system of learning that sets a floor for our children — not a ceiling. The standards outline what we expect from our students and elevate them to a platform of high-quality education that can compete with educational systems around the country and the globe.

Our high schools should be offering more advanced college preparation programs that incorporate some of the important objectives and standards of the Common Core. By exposing students to more rigorous college-level courses early on, we can increase their chance for success as they progress from high school to higher learning institutions. We advance by students being capable of taking more college-level work while still in high school. We retreat by having to remediate at the college level.

There are plenty of opportunities for Florida principals and teachers to learn more about the keys to college preparedness. One example: Cambridge International Examinations, which will be offering a free seminar on college success for school leaders and education professionals in Orlando on Tuesday. Global Perspectives is a program for high school students that focuses on developing skills required for college-level study such as research, communication and critical thinking skills anchored to the Common Core State Standards. Events such as this serve as crucial opportunities for Florida’s educators to improve and build upon the quality of learning in schools across our state.

Florida’s students have benefited from college preparation programs, such as AICE, for more than a dozen years. By supporting Common Core and coursework that develops our students’ ability to succeed after high school, we can enrich Florida’s student talent and secure a positive future for our state and our children.

Ed Moore is president and CEO of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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