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College District Approves Reading Standards

Education: Board adopts a plan requiring students to pass language-related classes, not an assessment test.


The county's community college district has adopted a reading comprehension standard for graduates that is more rigorous than is required by most of the state's other college districts but falls short of the standards some faculty members had hoped for.

Under the new requirement, adopted by district trustees Tuesday night, students seeking an associate in arts degree must pass two language-related classes--twice the number required by state law. Courses that satisfy the requirement include English literature, philosophy and applied mathematics.

"Ventura is doing more than the majority of districts" in reading comprehension, said Charlie Klein, specialist in academic planning for the state chancellor's office, who reviewed the new graduation standards at the request of the Ventura County Community College District.

"We wanted something that we saw as rigorous," said Ventura College Vice President Ron Dyste, who chaired a faculty committee that helped develop the new standards.

But at the same time, Dyste said the new requirements will do little to help the large number of students in the district with poor reading skills.

The plight of those students, whom Dyste estimated at nearly 50% of the district's incoming freshmen, prompted some instructors at Ventura College to push for a graduation requirement that would certify students' reading comprehension abilities beyond just their receiving a passing grade in two language-related courses.

Deborah Ventura, an English instructor at the college, had argued that students learn in a variety of ways and do not necessarily rely on reading a textbook to pass a class. Therefore, a passing grade would not guarantee that such students could read adequately, she maintained.

As an alternative, Ventura and some colleagues in her department proposed requiring students to either pass a reading assessment test or a separate course in reading comprehension.

But Ventura, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, ran into stiff opposition from faculty members at Oxnard College, who raised concerns about the cultural bias contained in some assessment tests, which they argue could be unfair to minority students.

In an attempt to resolve the conflict, district Chancellor Philip Westin hammered out with faculty and administrators the proposal that was adopted by the trustees at their meeting this week.

Westin said Thursday he was confident that requiring two language-related courses would provide sufficient proof that graduating students had college-level reading abilities.

"To get through courses, you have to read and you're tested on it again and again. And these are courses that have to be approved by the board," he said.

Another instructor who pushed for an assessment test declined to comment on Westin's reading comprehension compromise, citing a concern that any comments could ignite new tension among the faculty.

"We're just tired of banging our heads against the wall," the instructor said.

The trustees also adopted new graduation requirements for mathematics and standards in written expression that require passing grades in English composition and intermediate algebra.

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