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Most CSUDH freshmen need remedial work in English, math

Daily Breeze 3/14/07

About six of every seven freshmen who entered California State University, Dominguez Hills, needed remedial help in either English or math, making last year's crop of incoming students the worst prepared freshman class in the CSU system, according to a study presented Tuesday to the CSU board of trustees.

The study found that the system overall continues to struggle with a steady load of students who have not mastered high school basics. Of the group entering Cal State Dominguez Hills in the fall, only 15.5 percent of freshmen met the bar in English; about 16.9 percent tested at college level in mathematics, according to data.

Overall, the slice of the student body that needs remediation is changing little. In the CSU system, about half of freshmen made the grade in English and almost two-thirds were proficient in mathematics, proportions that have changed little since the previous year. Hundreds of students who fail to pass a proficiency test given to incoming freshmen are placed into remedial classes that don't count toward a degree. The high number of remedial students places a heavy burden on four-year colleges, officials say.

"What we don't think makes sense is for the kids to come to college when they're not ready for college," said Lynne Cook, the dean of the College of Education. "It's better to use university money to provide university-level course work."

The mean high school grade-point average for entering freshmen at Dominguez Hills was 3.1. Officials said one factor influencing the need for remediation could be the high proportion of students who are the first in their families to attend college.

The 11th Annual Report on college readiness surveyed the performance of some 43,000 incoming freshmen in 2006 on proficiency exams, including 691 new students admitted to Cal State Dominguez Hills.

The wide gulf between students entering the college and their peers considered college- ready has created a need that can't begin to be addressed by the somewhat modest remedial efforts now under way, officials acknowledged.

The study also found that while the student population grew by 19 percent from 1998 to 2006, the need for remedial classes was up 24 percent.

"What is disappointing is those from the graduating (high school) classes who don't need remedial classes has leveled off," said Allison Jones, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the CSU system. "The students are not demonstrating the level of proficiency that we would like."

At Cal State Dominguez Hills, the English department offered 33 remedial English classes in the fall, the most ever offered at the four-year school.

The report was presented Tuesday to the CSU system board of trustees, which has reviewed similar studies since 1996. The trustees had hoped to have just 10 percent of students in remediation by this fall.

A bright spot in the study is that CSU's remediation programs seem to be working.

The study found that 68 percent of the freshmen who received remedial help when they entered a CSU school in 2001 had either graduated or were still enrolled by 2006. That compares with 69 percent of freshmen who entered university at the same time but didn't need remedial classes.

At Cal State Dominguez Hills, 69 percent of regular incoming freshmen who needed remediation gained full proficiency in one year.

Researchers found that students were more likely to struggle with reading comprehension than with writing or math, Jones said.

To help reach their goal of 90 percent proficiency among incoming freshmen, CSU and state education officials have developed proficiency exams that are given to high school juniors to test their skills in English and math. The so-called Early Assessment Program is still too new to determine whether it is working, Jones said.

"We have some preliminary information showing some early signs that there are significant increases in proficiency, but it's still too early," Jones said.

At Cal State Dominguez Hills, which serves about 12,500 students, freshmen are given two standardized tests to determine their academic skill level. Last fall, more than eight in 10 of the 691 freshman needed extra work in math or English.

To better prepare students, the CSU system spends more than $5 million on testing and teacher training at local high schools. Eleventh-graders at Los Angles Unified, Torrance, Manhattan Beach and other local schools are given the college test. Cal State Dominguez Hills also spends $100,000 to train local teachers for a math readiness course, Cook said.

"It's going to tell you how well-prepared you are," said Carson High School Principal Ken Keener about the 11th-grade test. "It's promoting a college-going culture through the use of the test. It gives the kids a realistic appraisal."

More graduates from Carson High choose California State University, Long Beach than Cal State Dominguez Hills, which is in their own backyard, Keener said.

Of the students from Carson High, 38 percent weren't proficient in math and 46 percent weren't proficient in English.

State data showed similar numbers from Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach, Narbonne High in Harbor City, Palos Verdes High and Westchester High. Those schools are the top local feeders into the CSU system.

The glut of students stuck at remedial levels is having a direct impact on the work force in California, which is facing shortages in the health-care, manufacturing and construction industries.

"Without literacy skills coming out of the high school system, you are challenged in a number of ways, including access to higher education," said Bruce Stenslie, deputy director for the California Workforce Association.

The CSU study also found that students who are unable to achieve proficiency within one year, and who are thus dismissed from the university, are unlikely to go to community colleges to seek additional help. From 2000 to 2003, an estimated 10 percent to 13 percent of students returned to CSUs one year after being ousted.