Florida must come to terms with a stunning “Rigor Gap” that reflects a troubling trend, as a large number of students get passing grades for their classroom work only to fail the related end-of-course exams required for graduation.
When 72% of Florida 10th graders who failed the English-Language Arts end-of-course exam did so after receiving a ‘C’ or higher from their teachers, something is seriously wrong. The math is just as fuzzy when 55% of students who failed the Algebra I end-of-course exam had received passing grades for their classroom work.
This gulf between what schools ask of students and what the state requires in standardized testing is the “Rigor Gap” — the gaping chasm between students doing enough to satisfy classroom expectations but falling perilously short on related final exams. As a result, many students and their parents get a false sense of security about how well Florida’s youth are learning.
This gap should alarm Florida’s business community, which looks to today’s high school students as its workforce of the future. Two out of every three jobs that will be created in Florida by 2025 will require education or training beyond high school. Yet many of today’s students cruise along with passing grades, only to be brought down to earth by the reality that they can’t pass standardized end-of-course exams required for graduation.
As an in-depth study by the Florida Council of 100 shows, the Rigor Gap is leaving students less prepared for success at the postsecondary level or in the workplace.
The Council’s analysis concludes that students’ grades and test scores are not closely aligned, as they should be. A student earning a ‘B’ in a course would likely expect to pass the end-of-course exam.
However, our research demonstrates that many students who likely believe they have mastered course content based on their grades in fact have not done so, as evidenced by disappointing end-of-course exam results.
Simply put, it is vital to Florida students, colleges, and employers that when students graduate high school, they have mastered the standards that educators and experts have set as being key to success in college and the workplace.
Right now, the degree of such mastery is in question.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran puts a relevant perspective on it all: “We can love someone into mediocrity,” he said. Florida’s future and its workforce are at risk from this hard reality. The time to start dealing with the Rigor Gap is now.
This is especially important as students return to the classroom after months of lowered academic expectations and accountability resulting from the disruptive spring e-learning experience caused by COVID-19 shutdowns.
Although no data is available for the 2019-20 school year because of the absence of end-of-course exams, Florida faces a widening of this Rigor Gap, possibly causing large groups of students to fall even further behind.
Attaining a postsecondary credential is becoming an increasingly necessary component of achieving financial self-sufficiency, so it is important that students have an accurate understanding of how prepared they are for the road ahead.
As evidenced by the Council of 100 report, putting greater faith in the course grade over the end-of-course exam may precariously position many students to be less prepared for a meaningful role in the working world.
Chris Corr is chair of the Florida Council of 100. He is senior vice president of Real Estate & Public Affairs at Rayonier and a former executive with several major Florida corporations. While serving in the Florida House, he pursued a legislative agenda emphasizing growth leadership and economic development. He has also served on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission and Florida Growth Management Study Commission.