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Readiness Instead of Remediation

Cal State will begin an experimental program to assess high school juniors' math and English skills so they can boost their abilities before college, reducing the need for remedial courses.

October 07, 1998|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA PAULA — Trying to prepare more students for college, Cal State officials will soon test high school juniors in math and English and help them sharpen the skills needed for college-level work.

The experimental program, which may spread statewide if successful, is the latest step in the university's campaign to reduce the number of freshmen arriving on Cal State campuses in need of remedial classes.

The effort, which will draw faculty from various campuses, is being organized by the young Cal State Channel Islands campus, which recently acquired a home in Camarillo and is projected to grow into a four-year university within the next decade.

Besides cultivating a source of new students for the campus, the program is meant to demonstrate the university's commitment to educating the predominantly Latino community, which historically has sent few of its sons and daughters to the university.

"This is one of the first academic contributions this institution is going to make to this region," said Handel Evans, president of the Channel Islands campus.

Cal State faculty members will work with teachers at Santa Paula High School to administer diagnostic assessments to an unspecified number of juniors at the 1,500-student campus.

Those assessments will tell students where they need help in English and math. Educators will work with the students throughout the school year to shore up weaknesses. In the spring, they will administer the university system's basic proficiency exams in both subjects.

The students who pass--as high school juniors--will be guaranteed admission to the Cal State system as long as they meet other requirements, including prescribed course work and a certain grade-point average.

And those who don't pass will receive more help during their senior year and will be able to take another crack at the exams the following spring.

"These students essentially will have two years to strengthen their skills," said Allison Jones, Cal State's senior director of academic affairs. "What we're doing is offering, a year early, an additional aid for students to assess their ability for entry into the system."

Currently, the basic skills tests are offered only to seniors who already have gained admission to Cal State.

And there is no effort to go onto high school campuses to provide individualized instruction throughout the school year with an eye toward preparing students to pass the proficiency exams.

"We want to develop a continuing flow of students who are prepared to enter the Cal State system and ready to immediately start taking courses toward graduation," said William Brand, superintendent of the rural high school district targeted by Cal State officials because of its efforts to raise academic performance.

"We want our students to go to CSU and this is an in-road available to us now," he added. "We've told [Cal State officials], 'You give us a profile of what you want our students to look like to get there and I think we can meet it.' "

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Cal State officials have long been searching for ways to reduce the number of incoming freshmen in need of remedial courses.

More than half the freshmen who entered the university system last fall were unprepared for college-level math, and 47% lacked the skills to handle college English courses, despite the fact they were among the top third of California's high school graduates.

Starting this fall, the Cal State system requires all entering freshmen to pass basic skills exams in English and math or to show proficiency in those subjects with sufficiently high SAT or Advanced Placement test scores.

Those who fail to prove proficiency are funneled into remedial programs, forcing a delay in their education.

Cal State officials have launched other programs to help reduce the need for remediation. Last spring, for example, the basic skills exams were given to juniors at high schools surrounding state universities in Hayward, San Diego and San Jose.

But Jones said none of those efforts was as in-depth as the one proposed at Santa Paula High.

For the first time, he said, high school juniors will undergo an early diagnostic assessment in English and math. And faculty members from Cal State campuses throughout the university system will be called on to help Santa Paula students prepare for basic skills tests in those subjects.

"We want to see if we can't develop a new way of identifying and preparing students to enter directly into college without the need for remediation," Jones said. "It's not an issue of getting students into CSU campuses. The primary goal is to raise the proficiency level in English and math so they do well regardless of where they attend."

At Santa Paula High, the most recent numbers come from the fall of 1996. At that time, nine graduates were enrolled as freshmen in the Cal State system. All but one needed remedial math, and four of them failed to prove English proficiency.

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