A high school diploma does not mean the end of high school classes for nearly two out of every five Palm Beach County students who go on to higher education at a public Florida institution.
Florida spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year offering remedial classes to college students to re-teach them reading, English or math skills they should have learned in high school.
Darian Matos wasn’t surprised to learn she was one of them. This past spring, she had passed all her FCATs, received her diploma from Lake Worth High School and been accepted into Palm Beach State College. But she worried about being ready for the next level of education.
“High school, it was like, we need to get you graduated and that’s it,” said Matos, 18, who ended up having to take a math course at PBSC this summer after tests showed she wasn’t college-ready in that area.
The state and individual school districts have been working to align high school teaching with the expectations of colleges in order to lower the numbers of students requiring preparatory work. But the gap between high school and college continues to be a problem, experts say.
“Not all schools are doing this with an equal amount of seriousness,” State Board of Education member John Padget said during a recent state board meeting. “I want to solve the problem first in the schools so we don’t pass this problem on to the colleges.”
Palm Beach County’s remediation rate of 38 percent looks fairly similar to the state’s, and better than some of the other urban seven school districts, according to data from the state.
Within the county, the numbers of high school graduates who go on to require a remedial class in college varies wildly from high school to high school, the state data show.
For instance, 79 percent of Boynton Beach High School’s 2010 graduates who went on to a public Florida college or university ended up needing remediation in at least one subject. Meanwhile, only 19 percent of Jupiter High School graduates who went to a public Florida college or university required remedial courses. (Remediation information about 2010 graduates is the most recent data available from the state.)
Overall, of the 23 traditional high schools in the county, eight had more than half of their students requiring at least one remedial class, according to that data. Twelve had more than a third requiring remedial classes.
Those numbers only include graduates who went on to seek a degree at a public Florida university or college. The state does not collect that information for students who attend other colleges or universities. The numbers also don’t include those students who do not go on to higher education.
“This is not, unfortunately, a surprise to the district that this is occurring,” Marc Baron, chief of performance accountability for the Palm Beach County School District, said of the numbers of students needing remediation. “It’s been an ongoing effort for the district to improve, to have more and more of our kids college and career ready. Right now, we want the high school diploma to mean the student is college and career ready. That’s what we want. ”
Baron and others said the variation from school to school has much to do with the demographics of the school, such as students’ socioeconomic status or parental involvement.
Florida pays a real price for having to educate students on the same topic twice. A May 2011 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group, said the state spent $123 million in direct remediation costs during the 2007-2008 school year. What’s more, Florida misses out on an additional $101 million in the wages that those students will probably lose over a lifetime, the report estimated.
Students who have to take remedial courses in college are more likely to drop out before graduating from their degree program, the report also said.
“What we know about remediation is that, if a student takes one remedial course, they’re three times more likely not to finish college,” said Bob Wise, president of the education alliance and a former governor of West Virginia.
He said students that need remediation are already the ones most likely to be unprepared for college. He also noted that students must pay to take the remedial classes but don’t get college credit for them.
“Many are working a job or they borrowed money for school. Now they’re not advancing. They’re staying behind. The pressures begin to build up, and they say, ‘What’s the point?’ ” Wise said. “There’s a discouragement factor.”
Ginger Pedersen, dean of curriculum and educational technology for Palm Beach State, said 65 to 70 percent of degree-seeking students at her school need at least one remedial class. Most of them are graduates coming right out of high school, she said, although those classes also have some students who have been out of school for awhile.
Historically, there “wasn’t a proviso to get a