Why Florida needs more end-of-course exams (and not fewer): Variation in course coverage among classrooms

The case for more end-of-course exams in Florida will get stronger with the release of the book, Inequality for All: The Challenge of Unequal Opportunity in American Schools, by Michigan State University researcher William Schmidt and Curtis McKnight from the University of Oklahoma.  According to a review on the Education Week blog Curriculum Matters, the book…

…finds that U.S. classrooms are providing unequal access to math and science content, suggesting it’s not simply an issue that places low-income and minority students at a disadvantage, but that the variations exist for students of all backgrounds.

In fact, the two authors found the widest differences among schools that serve middle-class families.

“The data presented in this book strongly suggest that educational inequalities pose a risk to every child,” write co-authors William Schmidt, an education professor at Michigan State University, and Curtis McKnight, a professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma. “Variation in content coverage corrupts the entire U.S. educational system, in effect creating an enormous educational lottery in which every student takes part—whatever their racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic background.”

The book, Inequality for All: The Challenge of Unequal Opportunity in American Schools, is expected out next month from Teachers College Press. It examines three aspects of content coverage in U.S. classrooms: 1) whether a topic is covered; 2) how much instructional time it receives; and 3) the sequence in which topics are taught.

One way to address the variations is to use statewide end-of-course exams such as Florida’s new Algebra 1 EOC.  In fact, this year’s pass rate on the Algebra 1 EOC was 59%, higher than the rate would have been last year with the same cut score for passing (55%).  According to an Orlando Sentinel article on the Algebra 1 EOC results, “Florida educators have warned that the scores on the algebra exam would be low at first but have said they expect them to climb in coming years. They suspect that algebra courses statewide haven’t always covered all the material the state wants students to learn but that the situation will change now that the end-of-course exam is in place.”

Florida’s EOC program in math will continue to expand over the next several years (see the FDOE’s testing program schedule here) and EOC’s in Civics and US History will be rolled out as well.

But as for science?  The only EOC we’re going to get is for Biology, according to the schedule.  And we know the consequences of that – less science, and in particular less physical science, in the high schools.

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