Florida’s three new high school graduation tracks: Career-ready, college-ready, and none of the above

For awhile during this spring’s session of the Florida Legislature, it looked like the backlash against 2010’s SB4 high school graduation requirements might turn out to be constructive.  The Senate Education Committee – driven by its chair, John Legg – was looking at a two-track high school graduation system that would have required students to be either college-ready or career-ready.  The career-ready track would have sacrificed some of the SB4 math and science requirements, but instead it would have substituted a requirement to have an industry certification in some field so that the new graduate could get a decent job right out of high school.  The bottom line?  If you’re not going to college, you should be ready to get a good job right out of high school.  One or the other.

But the House Education folks had other ideas.  Their general approach was that math and science are for college-bound students, and not even all of those.  At a time when both the economy and the Senate were demanding that schools prepare students for economically viable careers, the House was running in the other direction.

In the end, there was compromise, as there always is.  SB 1076, the newly signed law of the State of Florida, prescribes three ways to graduate from high school.  One is college-ready, the so-called “Scholar” graduation track that has math and science requirements that are a little above what is generally considered “college-ready”.  A second is career-ready, which is called the “Merit” graduation track in the new law.  This requires, according to the bill, “one or more industry certifications.”

Then there is the standard high school diploma track, which leaves a student short of college-ready and does not prepare students for a well-paying job.

According to the Foundation for Florida’s Future, 2010’s SB 4 set the definition of college-ready.  In math and science, SB 4 would have required (this year’s passage of SB 1076 prevented full implementation of SB 4) Algebra 2, Biology 1 and “chemistry or physics” (for most students that would have meant chemistry) for graduation.  Algebra 2 would have been tested by the new assessments associated with the implementation of the Common Core standards, and passing the test would have been required for graduation.  The state administers a Biology 1 end-of-course exam, and passage of that exam would also have been required for graduation (the state never intended to test chemistry or physics, despite the mention of end-of-course exams for these subjects in SB 4).

In contrast, the new standard high school diploma requirements remove the requirements for Algebra 2 and “chemistry or physics”.  What’s left is:

  • Four credits in math, including Algebra 1 and Geometry.  Students will still be required to pass the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam (now administered by the state but soon to be a Common Core assessment) to graduate.  But the SB 4 requirement of passing the Geometry end-of-course exam to graduate has been rescinded.
  • Three credits in science, including Biology 1 – but without the requirement of passing the end-of-course exam for graduation.

The substitute “college-ready” track, called “Scholar,” actually exceeds the SB 4 graduation requirements somewhat.

  • In math, a student must pass the Common Core Algebra 2 end-of-course assessment and take “one credit in statistics or an equally rigorous course.”
  • The science requirements are that the student passes the Biology 1 end-of-course exam, takes chemistry or physics, and then takes another science course that is “equally rigorous to chemistry or physics.”

With a few changes – changing “statistics or an equally rigorous course” to “Precalculus” and changing the somewhat convoluted science requirement to “biology, chemistry and physics” – the Scholar track could have been fully STEM-ready (prepared for a college major in science or engineering).  But the legislators were not quite ready to do that.

The existence of the Merit and Scholar tracks might actually encourage students to prepare for entry into the big world – whether via college or right into the workplace – better than they would have otherwise.  It remains to be seen how many students fall through the trap door that is the state’s new standard high school diploma.  We can only hope that number is small.

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