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Ready or Not, Here They Come: Social Promotion Comes to FL CCs

In the transition between high school and college, remediation policy is arguably the most difficult piece of the puzzle. Students are often placed into remedial courses at community colleges by inferior standardized tests with arbitrary cut scores, and less than one-third of students placed into remediation are likely to graduate from college.

Well, in Florida, they have found what has been referred to as a “weirdly brilliant” strategy for dealing with remediation; with a wave of their legislative wand, the Florida legislature has made all of the students that would have placed into remediation disappear.

How did they do it? The answer is so simple it’s surprising no one had thought of it before: simply call all high school graduates “college-ready.” Once you say they’re college ready, they can go straight into credit-bearing courses.

Florida’s magic legislation, SB 1720, prohibits colleges from requiring students who have graduated from a Florida high school to take placement tests or to enroll in remedial coursework. So any Florida student who started 9th grade after the 2003-2004 school year who earned a high school diploma is set to enroll in college-level courses.

High school students in Florida are required to test at the end of 11th grade for college-readiness. Those who do not make the cut are placed into remedial courses during 12th grade, so all high school graduates should be ready for college-level work, right?

They should. But they’re not. According to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, in 2009 only 32 percent of students leaving Florida high schools tested proficient or above in reading, just 19 percent in mathematics. But despite the fact that the majority of high schools are not adequately preparing the majority of their students for college-level coursework, this new law requires that that all open-enrollment community colleges place all high school graduates into credit-bearing courses.

Welcome to the world of social promotion, community colleges! How these community colleges will respond remains to be seen.

Community colleges might develop wonderful student supports, integrating developmental education seamlessly into their first-year curriculum for struggling students to ensure success. This is, presumably, the intent of the law — to ensure that colleges are actually addressing the needs of remedial students, rather than dumping them in the black hole of higher education.  With very little time to transition to this new system, it might be more likely that they will water down further their first-year curriculum, ensuring that their already-mediocre graduation rates don’t plummet.

Academic advisors may also be called upon to help obfuscate the new law – if students aren’t proficient in reading, maybe they won’t realize that they aren’t legally required to take remedial reading courses. Students could also choose to enroll in non-credit-bearing remedial courses if they do not feel prepared for college-level work – opting into optional requirements, however, goes against popular views of student behavior. 

Regardless, Florida high school graduates: congratulations, you’re ready for college.  Assuming away the supposition that some of these graduates are not ready for college-level work, this magic trick might actually work.