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NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME: Latest Test Results in California Show 75 Percent of High School Juniors Are Not College Ready

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“The fact that so many students are thinking about going to college is very encouraging,” O’Connell said

Three in four high school juniors in California are not ready for college-level English classes, according to the latest results on the Early Assessment Program (EAP), a voluntary test designed by California State University (CSU) officials that identifies whether high school students are prepared for university-level coursework. Students fared a better in math, with more than half deemed “college ready.”

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued a statement that focused on the higher numbers of students taking the test but that did not comment on the results themselves. “The fact that so many students are thinking about going to college is very encouraging,” O’Connell said. “Ultimately, the success of this program will hinge on the extent to which students’ senior year is used more effectively so that greater numbers of students are ready for college after high school.”

Based on the test results, 55 percent of test-takers are considered ready for college-level math, a decline of one percentage point from last year. Test administrators blamed the decrease on the larger pool of test-takers and did not view it as significant.

On the English test, initial results showed only 25 percent of students scoring at the proficient level, the determiner of “college ready” status. While this is an increase of 1 percent over last year, it is nevertheless a particularly disappointing result, especially as the test is voluntary and most of the test-takers are likely to be higher-performing students who plan to attend college.

An additional 60,000 English tests have yet to be graded because of confusing instructions that were given to students. Test instructions had required that students fill in a bubble on their essay booklet if they intended to complete the English portion of the test. When it was discovered that 60,000 booklets had answers for that section, but did not have the bubble filled in, the decision was made to reexamine all test booklets, and to score any essays that had not been scored in the first round. These results are expected in October. Once these tests are added to those scored in the first round, officials estimate that over 200,000 high school juniors will have taken the EAP in English, a significant increase from the 186,000 high school juniors who took the EAP in English last year, but still only 48 percent of all high school juniors. CSU spokeswoman Claudia Keith could not say with certainty why so many students did not take the tests but presumed that many of those who opted out were not college bound.

CSU officials developed the test after recognizing that nearly half of the incoming college freshmen in fall 2003 were not proficient in English, and nearly 40 percent were not proficient in math. At the time, CSU officials estimated that they spent close to $30 million annually on remedial courses in math and English. Questions on the test were developed by CSU faculty who wanted to test students on geometry, algebra II, and writing skills in greater depth than the statewide assessment.

Officials hope that by identifying learning gaps during the junior year, students can improve their performance during their senior year. CSU leaders have also pledged to work with high school teachers to align more closely what students learn in high school and what they need to know to succeed at the college level. In addition, CSU faculty have also created a senior-level English class that focuses on critical thinking and writing, as an alternative to current courses that center on literature but often lack a component to teach the skills needed for college-level writing.

More information on the test results is available at http://www.calstate.edu/eap/testing.shtml.

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