A stunning eight of 10 freshmen enrolled at California State University's Los Angeles campus in 1994 were unprepared for college-level English courses, officials reported Monday. Nearly 85% of all freshmen at the system's Dominguez Hills campus required remedial instruction in mathematics that year, as did more than 70% of Los Angeles' freshmen.
The new data, the latest and most comprehensive yet released by Cal State officials, found that 49% of all the state university's first-time freshmen needed remedial English and 54% needed remedial math in 1994.
The results are based on tests administered to Cal State freshmen each year to measure their ability to handle college-level English and math. Those found unprepared are referred to remedial or below-college-level classes.
The dismal scores at four of the system's Los Angeles campuses exerted a powerful downward pressure, helping to drag the system into its fifth consecutive year in which the share of freshmen unprepared to do college-level work in English and math increased.
Cal State officials said the latest numbers--based on the performance of about 22,000 1994 freshmen--were disappointing but not unexpected.
"It's not a surprising set of numbers," said Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi, the director of analytic studies for the 22-campus Cal State system. "The data was from fall 1994 when we were just beginning to discuss the issue. There wouldn't have been any time for change."
The percentages of unprepared students at the Los Angeles-area campuses were as high as four times those recorded elsewhere in the state. At Cal State Northridge, for example, almost 70% of freshmen were unprepared in either English or math.
"There's probably no place in the world that's got the percentage of limited-English-proficient students that are in the Los Angeles Basin," said Hirano-Nakanishi, citing one of the factors that educators believe help explain the statewide disparities in test results, particularly in English.
Cal State officials also have cited many other possible factors, including more selective admission policies among some Cal State campuses, the varying quality of students' high school educations, and possible biases in the tests.
For instance, in the 1994 English results, male and female freshmen had the same unpreparedness rate of about 49% each. But in the math results, female freshmen fared much worse with a 61.1% unpreparedness rate overall, compared with 44.6% for their male counterparts.
Similarly, freshmen from all minority groups identified in the study fared worse than their white counterparts in both the English and math results, with the lone exception of Asian American freshmen, who did the best of all ethnic groups in math.
In 1994, 79.8% of all Cal State's African American freshmen were unprepared to do college-level math, as were 72.9% of Mexican Americans, 57.9% of American Indians, 44.6% of whites and 40.2% of Asian Americans.
Results of the 1994 English test were slightly better. Just under 70% of black and Mexican American freshmen were unprepared for college work, as were 68.3% of Asian Americans, 33.8% of American Indians and 24.2% of whites.
The first data on Cal State students' lack of preparation in English and math--which were released in January 1995--unleashed a political firestorm and led to proposals that the 326,000-student university system abolish its remedial education offerings, which cost about $10 million a year.
But in January, after months of debate about the complex web of factors behind the rising numbers, the Cal State Board of Trustees adopted a new remedial education policy that focuses on better preparing incoming students rather than turning away those needing extra help.
The 1994 levels of unprepared students were the highest since Cal State officials began reliably tracking the data in 1989. The numbers in each category have increased annually every year since then.
Under the new Cal State policy adopted in January, the university system will try to reduce its share of freshmen in need of remedial help to 10% overall by 2007 through working with grade schools and high schools to better prepare students and remedy problems more quickly.
But Cal State officials conceded that the task will be long and arduous, with freshmen test results likely to decline further before they get better.
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Not Ready for College