Putting Education Reform To The Test

Sarah Gonzalez

Broadcast Reporter (Former)

Sarah Gonzalez was the Miami-based reporter for StateImpact Florida until March 2013. Previously, she worked at NPR in D.C. where she was a national desk reporter, web and show producer as an NPR Kroc Fellow. The San Diego native has worked as a reporter and producer for KPBS in San Diego and KALW in San Francisco, covering under-reported issues like youth violence, food insecurity and immigration. Her work has been awarded an SPJ Sigma Delta Chi and regional Edward R. Murrows. She graduated from Mills College in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and journalism.

13th Grade: Why More Florida Students Than Ever Struggle With Math

Sagette Van Embden / Florida Center for Investigative Journalism

Wendy Pedroso did well in math classes -- until her first algebra course. Twice as many students at Florida colleges took a remedial math course than took a remedial writing or reading course.

Wendy Pedroso has never liked math, but for most of elementary school and middle school she got B’s in the subject. It wasn’t until ninth grade at Miami Southwest Senior High School, when Pedroso took algebra, that she hit a wall. In particular, she struggled with understanding fractions.

“I kept getting stuck in the same place,” Pedroso, 20, recalled recently. She failed the class, and worried that she’d never get to go to college. Pedroso sought help from tutors, took algebra again over the summer and passed. She went on to graduate from high school in 2011.

Pedroso enrolled at Miami Dade College’s campus in Kendall. Like all of Florida’s community and state colleges, Miami Dade accepts anyone with a high school diploma or G.E.D. But students must take a placement test to assess their basic skills. Pedroso’s struggles with math caught up with her again: She failed the math section of the test.

It meant that she had to take a remedial math class. The course cost Pedroso $300 like any other class at Miami Dade College but did not count as credit toward graduation. Although she could take college-level courses in other subjects, Pedroso couldn’t begin taking college-level courses in math until she passed the remedial course.

Pedroso was embarrassed.

“I thought that it was going to be very hard to get through college,” she said.

Across Florida, remedial classes at community and state colleges are full with students like Pedroso. More than half of the high school graduates who took the college placement test had to take at least one remedial class. And while many of those students struggle with basic reading and writing skills, the subject they’re most unprepared for in college is math.

In the 2010-11 school year, some 125,042 Florida college students needed to take a remedial math class, an investigation by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and StateImpact Florida has found. That number has been growing for some time, and is more than double the number requiring remedial classes in reading (54,489) or writing (50,906).

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13th Grade: What’s Causing The Rising Need For Remedial Classes

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

English teacher Vallet Tucker teaches 10th grade honors students. She says she's not surprised that more than half the students who took Florida's college placement exam in the 2010-2011 school year failed at least one subject.

Shakira Lockett was a pretty good student in elementary, middle and high school. The Miami-Dade County native says she typically earned As and Bs in English classes.

Math was always something of a struggle for Lockett. Still, she got through her high school exit exam with a passing grade and went on to graduate from Coral Gables Senior High School in 2008.

She went straight to Miami Dade College. Then, something unexpected happened: She flunked the college placement exams in all three subjects – reading, writing and math.

That didn’t mean she couldn’t attend the school; all state and community colleges in Florida have an open-door policy, which means everyone is accepted. But it did mean she had to take remedial courses before she could start college-level work.

“When they told me I had to start a Reading 2 and Reading 3 class, I was like, ‘Serious?’” Lockett said. “Because I’ve always been good at reading.”

Lockett, who is now 22, spent a year-and-a half taking remedial classes before she could start her first college-level class to count toward her degree in mass communication and journalism. The seven extra courses cost her $300 each.

Lockett found having to take remedial classes discouraging.

“It makes you feel dumb,” Lockett said. “And you ask yourself, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’”

Lockett’s experience actually is quite normal in Florida. In 2010-11, 54 percent of students coming out of high school failed at least one subject on the Florida College System’s placement test, according to an investigation by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and StateImpact Florida.

That meant nearly 30,000 students – high school graduates – had to take at least one remedial course in college.

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13th Grade: How Florida Schools Are Failing To Prepare Graduates For College

Sagette Van Embden / Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Shakira Lockett, 22, spent three semesters taking remedial classes before she began working on college-level courses. Lockett, who attended Miami Dade College’s Wolfson campus in downtown Miami, completed her associate’s degree in mass communications and journalism in May.

Florida’s K-12 public education system has graduated hundreds of thousands of students in the past decade who couldn’t read, write or solve math problems well enough to take some college-level courses.

More than half of high school graduates who took the college placement test in the 2010-2011 school year found out they had to take at least one remedial course in college to boost basic skill. These students couldn’t pass at least one subject on the placement exam used to assess the abilities of incoming students.

Florida’s 28 public community and state colleges are required to accept anyone with a high school diploma or G.E.D.

Students taking remedial classes have a harder time getting through college. They must pay for —  and the state must subsidize – these basic-skills courses. They do not receive credit toward graduation for remedial classes, and can’t take courses that do count for credit until their skills improve. The result for these students is a longer path to graduating college.

Many of those students never complete their studies.

The need for remedial education is a nationwide problem. But it’s a significantly worse problem in Florida than elsewhere, despite the state’s reputation as a pioneer in overhauling K-12 education.

Some 54 percent of Florida students who took the state college placement test need remedial work in at least one subject. The national average for first-time students needing remediation is 40 percent.

Demand for remedial courses in Florida has doubled since 2007.

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Jeb Bush, On The End of FCAT

Andrew Harrer / Getty Images

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush urged more emphasis on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results during his two terms in office.

But Bush isn’t mourning the end of the FCAT when a new Common Core State Standards — and tests — fully take effect in the fall of 2014.

Bush says FCAT was never meant to test whether students were ready for college or the job market.

“The Common Core State Standards are higher; they’re fewer; they require more critical thinking skills,” Bush said, “and they will, unfortunately, at the beginning, they will probably show that close to two-thirds of our children are not college and career ready.”

Bush isn’t worried that Common Core hasn’t been field tested, and he trusts experts who say Common Core more closely resembles international standards.

We’ll pull out some highlights throughout the day, but you can listen to the full interview here. Full transcript after the jump and more next week.

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An Easier Way to Compare College Financial Aid Awards

An example of the information on the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

Shopping for college may have gotten easier.

More than 500 colleges and universities in the country have agreed to standardize their award letters to allow students to compare financial aid packages more easily.

The goal of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is to help students make more informed decision on where to attend school by providing a clear way to see the actual cost of a particular school.

In Florida, 27 colleges and universities have signed on from Miami-Dade to Jacksonville. Continue Reading

A Florida Math Teacher’s YouTube Lessons Reach People in 100 Countries

About half a million people from around the world have been tuning in online to the math lessons of a Florida teacher, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Rob Tarrou, a teacher at St. Petersburg High School, records lessons on algebra, trigonometry, calculus, statistics and other math subjects under his YouTube channel “Tarrou’s Chalk Talk.”

Some videos have more than 33,000 hits so far.

In this video where the high school teacher is rocking a shirt that reads, “5 out of 4 people have a problem with fractions,” Tarrou gives an introduction to equations of parallel or perpendicular lines.

Below are comments from his grateful viewers.

strfiretiger123 wrore:

Oh gosh, thank you so much! You’re a seriously amazing teacher.

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Where Florida’s Foreign College Students Come From, How Much They Spend

kaetidh / FLICKR

Florida ranks seventh in the country for the number of foreign students enrolled in state colleges and universities.

Saudi Arabia and South Korea are among the top 5 leading places of origin for international college and university students in Florida.

That’s according to the Institute for International Education, which released its Open Doors fact sheet today.

It reports that during the 2011-12 school year, 32,567 students from other countries enrolled for the first time in a Florida college or university — a 9.6 percent increase from the year before.

Florida ranks seventh in the country for the number of foreign college students. California ranks first.

Leading places of origin for foreign college students in the state:

China 16.2%
India 11%
Venezuela 7.3% Continue Reading

An Exercise in Percentages, Graphing for Students on Election Day

Breakthrough Miami

Diana Viart (5th grade), Leiny Otero (6th grade) and Estafania Lucero (5th grade) take notes during an interview outside of a precinct.

Miami-Dade students were working hard on Election Day.

Students who are part of the Breakthrough Miami summer and after school program visited precinct 538 — because it’s walking distance from their campus, Ransom Everglades School.

They surveyed voters and processed the data themselves for a math exercise in percentages and graphing.

You know we’re suckers for data, and we love that young Florida students were getting into the spirit of the elections.

Here are their results — in the form of graphs they made — from 64 exit poll surveys at precinct 538.

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Teachers One Step Closer to a Pay Raise in Miami-Dade

Tax Credits / FLICKR

Miami-Dade teachers are hoping to bump the starting salary to $40,000.

Miami-Dade teachers are one step closer to a pay raise.

The President of the teachers union, Karen Aronowitz, and her 28 member bargaining team signed off today on a tentative agreement that would provide salary increases while maintaining health care for teachers and education support professionals.

“Today we reached a contractual agreement with the district that moves us forward,” Aronowitz said.

Highlights of the Agreement:


  • One step increase on the salary matrix for eligible teachers
  • $40,000 starting salary for teachers
  • $1,000 salary improvement at the top of the salary schedule making the top step worth $69,225 Continue Reading

Proposal: Different Tuition Rates Based on the Degree Students Seek

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Students protesting tuition hikes in Tallahassee, Fla. during the 2012 legislative session.

Gov. Rick Scott’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform has reached tentative agreement on its recommendations.

The panel on Wednesday called for different tuition rates based on the type of degree being sought such as business, education or engineering.

It also proposed letting “preeminent universities” set higher tuition rates.

In addition, the task force suggests the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System, should have bigger roles in budgeting and hiring university presidents. Continue Reading

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