Florida’s new “Scholar” diploma designation, passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott in 2013, was an attempt to define a high school graduate who is especially well prepared for the challenge of college. Unfortunately, the math and science course requirements for the Scholar designation fall short of what is necessary to prepare students well for rigorous college majors in engineering and science.
At first blush, the science requirement for the Scholar designation seems close to the complete set of courses in biology, chemistry and physics that a well-prepared high school graduate would have. The language in the 2013 law sets the requirements this way:
Pass the statewide, standardized Biology I end-of-course assessment and earn one credit in chemistry or physics and one credit in a course equally rigorous to chemistry or physics.
Biology is the bedrock of Florida’s K-12 science program, despite the fact that it leads to career paths that are uniquely problematic among STEM options. Then there is “chemistry or physics”, which for most students will be chemistry. And finally, “a course equally rigorous to chemistry or physics,” which suggests another serious physical science course – preferentially physics.
But in practice, the “equally rigorous” course requirement does not steer a student in the direction of adequate preparation for college majors in engineering and science. Florida’s course code directory includes science courses that carry an “EQ” code, and any of these courses satisfy the “equally rigorous to chemistry or physics” requirement for the Scholar designation. The science courses that carry the EQ code include: Anatomy and Physiology (both standard and honors); Honors Genetics; Earth/Space Science (both standard and honors); Environmental Science (the AP version is included, but the non-AP version is as well); Marine Science (both standard and honors); Integrated Science (both standard and honors); Physical Science (both standard and honors); and Principles of Technology.
If there was an intent on the part of the legislators involved in writing SB 1076 to solve the problem I see – that 25% to 30% of students majoring in engineering or science have not had a physics course in high school and face an uphill battle in learning the physics required at the college level – then the attempt missed the mark. Principles of Technology and Anatomy and Physiology are not appropriate preparation for college physics and chemistry courses.
At least one school district has carried the “equally rigorous” label even farther than the Florida Department of Education has. Pasco County designates “Agriscience Foundations” as being “equally rigorous to chemistry or physics” for the purpose of earning a Scholar designation.
I will leave it to the reader to come up with an appropriate clever statement connecting byproducts of farm animals, physics education and the production of bioenergy in Pasco County.