College & Workforce Readiness

Calif. High Schoolers Get Preview of College-Placement Test

By Lynn Olson — April 25, 2006 3 min read
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Faced with thousands of incoming students who needed remedial classes, the California State University system launched an effort in 2001 to provide high school juniors with an early signal of whether they have the English and math skills necessary for college, and to provide help for those who don’t.

CSU draws its students from the top third of the state’s high school graduates. Applicants must have at least a B average in a college-preparatory curriculum. Even so, placement tests identified 47 percent of incoming freshmen in 2004 as needing remedial instruction in English, and 37 percent as needing it in math.

Under the Early Assessment Program, made available statewide in spring 2004, high school juniors can elect to take an augmented version of the California Standards Test, the statewide test given annually to students in grades 2-11. The augmented exam includes 15 questions each in mathematics and English and a 45-minute English essay, based on a blueprint developed by CSU faculty members in consultation with the state department of education.

Last spring, more than four in 10 high school juniors volunteered to take the exam. Among those tested, 24 percent were classified as ready to take college-level English courses, and 56 percent scored high enough to take college-level math, up a few percentage points from the previous year.

Students who achieve a high enough score are considered to have met the university’s expectations for entering freshmen and do not have to take any additional CSU placement tests.

Extra Preparation

Eleventh graders who need stronger reading and writing skills can take a specially designed college-preparatory course in grade 12, developed jointly by high school teachers and CSU faculty members.

Teachers also can incorporate some of the 14 units of study into existing courses. The lessons emphasize in-depth study of expository and analytical reading and writing skills. Regional workshops, held in conjunction with the California State system, provide teachers with training in presenting the course material. “We basically thought that some of the things our faculty thought were most important were being undertaught,” said Beverly L. Young, an assistant vice chancellor in academic affairs at CSU. “High school English tends to be a lot about American and British literature and poetry, but reading and writing critically and from academic texts were not being emphasized.”

The university system is now building the same information about Early Assessment Program standards and methods into its teacher-preparation programs, which train more than half of public school teachers statewide.

Students, counselors, and parents also have access to Web sites that provide them with additional information and online materials, including math tutorials and progress assessments.

Expansion Eyed

The 405,000-student California State University system, the state education department, and the state board of education developed the Early Assessment Program. The long-term goal is to integrate CSU college-readiness standards into the curriculum for grades 8-11.

A bill now before the California legislature, proposed by Sen. Martha Escutia, a Democrat, would create a similar early-warning system for the state’s community colleges. If passed, the bill would give up to 25 California community colleges the chance to participate in a pilot program to devise common educational standards and let prospective students take a common 11th grade test, which would be modeled after the CSU effort.

“Students who arrive prepared and experience early success are more likely to follow through to graduation, to succeed, and all that good stuff,” said Keith O. Boyum, CSU’s associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We’re hopeful that this effort will bring us some improvements. We’re feeling like we’re on the right path.”

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