TALLAHASSEE — Test results show Florida is going backward in preparing students for college, yet the state's high schools keep getting high grades from the state, a former education commissioner told a higher education study panel Thursday.
That disconnect is holding back efforts to improve Florida's schools, said John Winn, who was commissioner under then-Gov. Jeb Bush and briefly returned on an interim basis this year.
"When you change your standards such that you make a school look much better than it is, you can't get community support for making it better," Winn said. He said people then say, "We made F's for all these years and now we're safe. Okay, our work is over."
Winn urged the state Higher Education Coordinating Council to take an in-depth look at Florida's high school grading formula, which is heavily based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, and recommend changes for reducing grade inflation.
Now temporarily serving as chief of staff and senior adviser to Florida's new education commissioner, Gerard Robinson, Winn sat in for Robinson at the council meeting. Robinson is one of seven council members but was unable to attend Thursday.
Students' scores on standardized exams such as the FCAT steadily fall as they move from elementary to middle and high school, Winn said.
"I can't tell you how many times I heard 'Kids don't get dumber, there's something wrong with the FCAT,' " Winn said, but he also cited ACT college entrance test scores showing only 17 percent of Florida's high school graduates were college-ready this year.
The ACT scores released Wednesday also showed Florida increased its composite score slightly from 19.5 to 19.6. That tied Florida with Kentucky for 48th among the 50 states and District of Columbia. Only Tennessee and Mississippi had lower scores.
Last year, though, a record 71 percent of high schools received an A or B from the state and only 14 percent got a D or F. This year's high school grades are expected to be released in December.
The council took no immediate action on Winn's suggestion but indicated the grading system is something worth examining.