Friday, January 21, 2011

Breaking News: "College Readiness Test" in California

I have just finished reading an article that appeared in this week's online edition of Education Week that gives some encouraging news about one state's attempt to address the "stubbornly high college remediation rates" that I mentioned in my last post.

To summarize (for those of you who don't want to read or can't access the article): educators in California brought together leaders in K-12 and higher education and came up with a list of the knowledge and skills necessary for students to succeed at the college level. They then devised an "Early Assessment Program" whereby college-bound high school juniors could voluntarily take a test to measure their readiness for college in the key areas of literacy and mathematics. Those who take the test receive their results before the beginning of their senior year in high school. Students who meet the standards proceed directly to credit-bearing courses when they enter a California college and skip the remedial courses that so many of their peers must start in. Students who do not meet the standards are given access their senior year to a variety of online courses that aim to help them achieve college readiness by graduation.

It's not a perfect system. Some high school teachers and counselors complain that students take the test too late in their secondary education for the remedial courses to be truly effective, and that by the time the students receive their test results, it's too late for them to alter their senior-year schedules to accommodate a different or additional English or math course (although I agree with Carolina Cardenas, of the California State University, who is quoted in the article as saying, "When counselors tell us, 'You give us the [test] results too late; I can't change their class schedule,' I get it. I really do. But my feeling is, why wouldn't the student already be signed up for a fourth year of college-prep English? And why wouldn't you get more kids in a fourth year of math?"). It's also still a voluntary test, which means that there are still of lot of college freshmen whose readiness is unknown at the beginning of their first semester. Nevertheless, the Early Assessment Program is a good first step. It has begun a conversation that should have begun a decade or more ago. It appears to have changed the way California looks at continuing education for its teachers, and although remediation rates at CSU have held steady since the introduction of the test, early indications are that the number of students who meet the EAP's standards is slowly rising.

Here's hoping that the dialogue continues and spreads to other states.

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