Pass test, then collect diploma

Trustees at FSU approved the provost’s request to make passing the College Level Academic Skills Test a requirement to graduate.

Published June 9, 2006

Future students at Florida State University may have to pass a state exam that measures reading, writing and math skills in order to graduate.

FSU trustees on Friday approved Provost Larry Abele’s request to pursue the requirement. If it survives a test run, FSU could be the only state university to make the College Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST) a must for graduation.

Abele, vice president of academic affairs, said he will start this coming academic year by testing a pilot group of students to see how they fare.

“If everyone made 100, we would say, 'Gosh we’re doing a wonderful job,’” Abele said.

If students show deficiencies in certain areas, administrators would look at whether there are gaps in the curriculum.

“Eventually, if there are areas of concern, we will bring it back to the trustees and ask that it become mandatory for all students,” Abele said, adding that trustees have indicated support for making it a graduation requirement.
Abele said the tests will be useful because administrators and faculty can use the results to evaluate the effectiveness of core classes like Algebra and freshman English.

“If we see that a large percentage of students could not answer questions about polynomials, we can go back to that Algebra class to see what’s missing,” he said. “It’s always good to have independent self-assessments.”
All underclassmen would have to take the CLAST before receiving their undergraduate degree. But FSU would grant waivers to students with disabilities, Abele said.

CLAST is a four-part exam that measures the reading, writing and math skills of university and community college students. It is typically administered in the sophomore year.

Lawmakers adopted the CLAST in the early 1980s, mandating that students pass the test between the time they earned 18 and 60 credit hours. But the requirement was controversial from the start, and opposition grew in subsequent years as the passing standards rose and more students failed.

Supporters said it was a way to ensure high standards in the state’s higher education system. Critics called the test culturally biased, pointing to the fact that the lowest passage rate was among black students and students for whom English is a second language.

In 1995, legislators passed another law that basically did away with the test.

That law provided exemptions for students who meet certain grade-point requirements or score at a specified level on the SAT or the ACT. For example, students with a 500 in verbal and 500 in math on the SAT are exempt. If they earn at least a C+ in certain courses, they also don’t have to take it.

Today, just a small fraction of Florida’s university and community college students have scores and grades so low that they must take the CLAST.

According to the Department of Education, only 1,600 Florida community college and university students took all four portions of the test last year. Thirty-four percent of them passed.

Last year, 112 FSU students took all sections of the CLAST; 39 percent passed, according to the DOE.

Students can retake the test as many times as they want. Those who don’t pass can be prohibited from enrolling in any more college courses, and they can be denied an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, state law says.

But colleges can grant waivers to that provision.

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.