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Fla. Students And Educators Wonder: What Does It Mean To Be College And Career Ready?

Lively Technical's Auto School recently rolled out its compressed natural gas program.

College and career readiness is a phrase people in the education world throw around a lot and definitions of the term vary wildly depending whom you ask. But, most are in agreement that whatever college and career readiness means, Florida students don’t seem to be making the grade.

On average, around 160,000 high school seniors graduate in Florida every year. And more than 50% of the state’s incoming college freshmen fail at least one section on the Sunshine State’s college placement exam, forcing most students to spend their early college years catching up with remedial courses. That statistic has state business leaders, like the Florida Chamber’s Edie Ousley, increasingly worried.  She lamented how Florida, the 4th most populous state in the country, has close to 60,000 Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, jobs just waiting to be filled by qualified applicants.

“Understanding that we believe in a talented workforce as being the key to our state’s economy, we must prepare our students for those future jobs and ensure that our students are moving in the right direction,” Ousley said.

College placement tests aren’t the only rubric for gauging college and career readiness. Before a student even enters an institution of higher learning, they have to take one of two standardized tests – the SAT or ACT. According to data released by the latter in August, only 19% of Florida students tested as “college ready,”which the testing administrator defines as how well a student will do in their first year of college.  Although he acknowledges not every student is cut out for a four-year institution, ACT spokesman Ed Colby asserted his employer’s college ready measure has broader implications.

“What we have found is that the skills needed for workforce training programs, that are required for lots of jobs that would pay a livable wage for a small family would require somewhat comparable skills to first year college-coursework in math and reading,” Colby said.

At Lively Technical Center’s automotive school in Tallahassee, students from diverse backgrounds and of varying ages are swapping out the components on a Chevy Silverado pickup truck so it can run on compressed natural gas.

Instructor Kenny Adams is hoping the skills he’s teaching will give his students an edge in the emerging natural gas industry.

“This shop here is set up just for teaching compressed, which is becoming more and more available in car lines and as it does we need techs that are trained to work on compressed natural gas vehicles,” Adams said during his class Thursday.

Adams was surprised by the number of students who came into his class unprepared by their high schools. Many only arrived at the technical college after graduating high school and spending years with little career direction. One of those students is Patrick Anderson. He explained after graduating high school, he joined the military, thinking it was his only option. After he finished his service, he felt ill-equipped for civilian work – a problem he traced back to his time in high school.

“High school students when they graduate today, they have more options available to them. I think when I graduated, which was several years back, we’re talking thirty years, the opportunities weren’t as vast as they are now,” Anderson said.

Florida students do have opportunities, but they’re not always easy to find. That’s why West Park Democratic State Representative Shevrin Jones said he’s filing a bill to mandate school districts offer a college and career readiness courseto help guide students to careers they’re really passionate about.  Jones suggested because teachers are forced to spend most of their time teaching for standardized tests like the FCAT, students aren’t learning the skills necessary to put them on track for a career that suits them.

“The teacher is saying I have to stick to a curriculum that was giving to me by the state and I really don’t have time to teach a kid about life.” Jones said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Now, a good teacher knows how to maneuver their way and stick it in there to make sure you take care of the holistic child. But, then you have some teachers who really need that support.”

Although he admits his bill wouldn’t solve all of the state’s career readiness woes, Jones does believe creating separate classes where students can take job-placement tests, learn to write resumes, and hone their career interests will mold more well-rounded students and put them in a better position to be successful post- high school.