Florida Report Shows College Students Underprepared in Reading, Writing. and Math: Remedial Programs Underway and Already Successful
by Roberto Rodriguez
A recent report shows that nearly 40 percent of all first-time-in-college (FTIC) students in Florida are not academically prepared in the areas of reading, writing and math.
The "Readiness for College" report, compiled by the Florida Department of Education, also shows that while only 7 percent of state university students are academically unprepared to do college-level work, 60 percent of all first-time community college students lack the skills necessary for success in college. In addition, the study found that the number of underprepared students entering Florida's colleges had grown by 3.9 percent in one year.
Although the state Legislature issued a directive in 1983 to high schools, school districts, community colleges and state universities to compile data on academic preparedness, this is only the second year this data has been available. This year's data shows a slight increase in the number of FTIC students who are unprepared for college but, said Clark Maxwell, executive director of the state's division of community colleges, two years of data do not provide sufficient information with which to assess trends.
Taylor Culler, educational policy analyst and author of the report for the state's Office of Postsecondary Education Coordination, says that gathering the data is part of the state's decentralization efforts. "The standards are set by the state. The way you achieve [solutions] is left up to each school district."
With this report, each high school and college can compare itself with others and see where it can improve, he says.
While state and college officials expressed disappointment at the numbers, Dr. Sylvia Fleishman, educational policy director for Florida's division of community colleges, says that the reason more community college students are unprepared is that almost half are older students, long-removed from the classroom. "We have a lot of returning adults who need remediation," she says.
Meeting the Challenge
State and college officials from Florida also say that the level of student underpreparedness in the state's community colleges should not be taken as an indication of the effectiveness of the state's community colleges.
These officials note that more than 72 percent of 9,495 students passed the exit College Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST). "We're confident we're serving our students well," says Fleishman.
"We have done a review of our college preparatory classes. We're extremely successful. We're proud of our programs. But what's unfortunate is that community colleges have a stigma because of the high rate of underprepared students [even though] we provide an avenue that is not available otherwise," she adds.
"We have one of the few formalized [preparatory] programs in the country, and we're seeing the benefits," says Maxwell. "We feel pretty good about what we do, but the numbers [of underprepared students] coming to us have not diminished," he says. "The state does not allocate any extra money to do the job. We're working with the high schools so they can understand our expectations."
The purpose of the "Readiness for College" report is for high schools and school districts to better prepare their students, and for community colleges and state universities to develop strategies to educate these students, says Fleishman. It was also prepared so that high schools will comply with Blueprint 2000 -- a statewide plan which hopes to revamp the instructional approach of high schools.
"It's a plan which seeks to return local control to the schools, with a larger voice for the faculty," says Fleischman.
In the past two years, politicians who object to paying twice to educate underprepared FTIC students have submitted bills that would take money from the high schools and reallocate them to community colleges. …