Group looks for cure to education's "senior-itis" syndrome

Apr 19, 2012

A group of state and federal officials want to know if Florida’s high school graduates are ready for college or careers. The National Assessment of Education Progress spear-headed the event- with an eye toward how to make its test more relevant to students who may have already tuned out of school by their senior year. But as Lynn Hatter reports, getting those students to tune back in, is easier said, than done.

There’s a lot of talk these days about what “college and career ready” means. Florida is launching a whole new set of tests and measurements to try and define what those terms look like on a practical level. Groups like the Florida Chamber and its Executive Director David Hart, say the definition of “college and career readiness” is subjective.

 “That’s a great question and a difficult one to answer. But I think in some ways, it’s a bit different depending on the field. But ultimately, its, can that student, as they’re leaving the 12th grade, can they go into the workforce and perform the duties of the entry-level job they’ve been hired for; or, if they’re going to community college or the university setting, are they prepared to do so without remediation?”

That’s David Heart, the Chamber’s Executive Vice President and one of the panelists at a conference aimed at trying to help the National Assessment of Education Progress define “college and career ready”. The NAEP test is known as one of the best state-to-state comparative tools because students across the nation take its tests every year. Frequently, scores reported on the NAEP test are much lower than what state’s report on their own assessments. Cornelia Orr heads NAEP’s governing board.

 “Many students think that just passing a state test is enough. But usually, that’s a pretty low bar. And to get into college or be successful in a job training program, you need much more than just passing that minimum score.”

NAEP is facing a challenge at the 12th grade level: How to make its test relevant to today’s high school seniors. It’s an interesting dilemma, with a complex background. NAEP is a national assessment, but every state, including Florida, has its own way of measuring student progress. Most Floridians can think of the FCAT as that example. But most of the FCAT tests end after the 10th grade. And for many students, its smooth sailing from then to graduation. What tends to happen, is that students get comfortable. Maybe a little…too comfortable says Miami Senator Anitere Flores.

“That’s something that happens across the county and then, we are surprised when we shouldn’t be, when we see the statistics that say such a high number of students need remedial courses. That shouldn’t surprise us when we see that our high school exit exams are substantially less than what is required at the 12th grade, much less, at an entry level of college or the workforce.”

 Flores says it’s time to re-engage today’s high-school juniors and seniors. Once upon a time, the state’s solution may have may have been creating a new test—lately, the state has been backing off that approach. Flores, though, has some ideas on how to keep up the academic rigor in those higher grades.

“First and foremost, for those students that are struggling, doing the remedial courses in the junior, senior year of high school. Then there is another cohort that is doing well. We don’t want them to be stagnant. We should get them to think about starting college and the junior, senior level.”

Flores promotes dual-enrollment programs, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs—all designed to push advanced coursework at the high school level. The state has pushed these programs by factoring student participation in them into the calculation of its high school grades.