California proposes high school academic standards to combat higher education remediation - Higher Education

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California proposes high school academic standards to combat higher education remediation

by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

California’s higher education officials have
teamed up with the public schools to create
the state’s first proposal for academic
standards for high school students.

The preliminary proposal, which was
unveiled last month, is a cooperative effort to
address the skyrocketing necessity for
remedial education for students entering the
state’s community colleges and universities.
California Community College System
Chancellor Tom Nussbaum joined leaders of
the state’s two university systems and state
schools chief Delaine Eastin in releasing the
proposal for increasing high school graduation
requirements in mathematics and English at a
meeting of the California State University
board of trustees.

“We all share a common problem: Our
children are not achieving at a high enough
level,” Eastin, the state superintendent of
public instruction, said in an interview. “Not
having standards allows all manner of things
to pass as education.”

The proposal was developed by the
California Education Round Table, a group of
educators that includes Nussbaum, Eastin,
California State University Chancellor Barry
Munitz, University of California President
Richard Atkinson, and representatives of the
Association of Independent California
Colleges and Universities and the California
Postsecondary Education Commission.

Community college officials do not know
what percentage of the 1.4 million students in
the state’s 106 community colleges require
remedial education. But in 1993, the system
tallied almost 500,000 enrollments for basic
skills courses–a number that includes
students enrolled in several remedial classes.

Although many are older students without
recent formal schooling, many others are
entering directly from high school or within a
few years of graduation. Some community
colleges in the state claim more than 80
percent of their students are not prepared for
college courses.

Earning good grades and performing well
on college-entrance exams qualifies the top
one-third of the state’s graduates for
admission to the California State University
system. Yet almost half of those incoming
freshman are not prepared for college courses
and are routed first into remedial programs.

One of the solutions to this increasing
problem is more interaction between
educators at all levels and involvement of
college and university officials in K-12
education, says Dr. John E. Roueche,
director of the Community College Leadership
Program at the University of Texas at Austin.
“There need to be more partnerships, more
collaborations between the colleges and K-12
systems,” said Roueche, who with his wife,
Suanne, co-authored Between A Rock And A Hard
Place: The At-Risk Student in Open-Door
College, which describes the dilemma
community colleges face in providing remedial
education to so many students. “There are a lot
more things we can do, not only to help
students get through high school, but to identify
those things that will prepare them to succeed in
college,” he said.

The California Education Round Table
has recommended that all but the most
severely handicapped students
complete four years of English and two
years of higher-level mathematics in
order to graduate. Students with limited
English proficiency, many of whom
first attend community colleges if they
go on to higher education at all, would
also be expected to meet the higher
standards. That caveat has drawn some
criticism from educators of students in
English-as-a-second-language programs
who say the standards may be out of
the reach of non-native English

Current graduation requirements
call for students to complete
twenty-four courses, thirteen in
required areas. Requirements can be
fulfilled through classes of varying
difficulty and students performing at
an eighth-grade level pass many of the
proficiency tests given by all districts,
officials say.

“Sometimes kids take things called
business math or practical math” to
fulfill the two-year requirement, Eastin
said. “It is really Mickey Mouse math.
It’s not intended to give these kids the
kinds of abilities they need to succeed
in college or work.”

The standards were developed by
two task forces, one for each subject.
While the standards send a clear message
to students and teachers about what is
necessary for graduation, “we need improved
curriculum, better prepared teachers and
better management of schools” to implement
them, Jerry Hayward, the former chancellor
of the community college system who chaired
the mathematics task force, said at the

Hayward is co-director of Policy
Analysis for California Education an affiliate
of the California State University system that
provides information to educators around the

Under the English standards, students
would he expected to read twenty-five books
a year in a variety of genres; demonstrate
proficiency in writing reports and essays;
make oral reports; analyze and compare
literary selections; and examine political
literature and news reports.

In mathematics, the standards require a
balance of basic skills, conceptual
understanding and problem solving with a
focus on number sense, symbols and algebra,
measurement and geometry, functions, data
analysis, and mathematical reasoning.

Although a boost to the existing
requirements, the mathematics standards have
been criticized for not meeting university
entrance demands, which generally call for
three years of the subject. The criteria,
however, would sufficiently prepare most for
academic programs at the open-admissions
community colleges.

Nussbaum said the proposed standards
“represent an unprecedented level of
collaboration and cooperation among the
three segments of higher education and the
K-12 sector in this very diverse slate.
“What drove us is the realization that in
order to improve education we need to have
agreed-upon standards against which all the
state’s students would be measured,” he

Some educators gave the document high
In Alameda County, Drew Kravin, a
mathematics and assessment specialist for the
county’s eighteen districts and 200,000
students, said that, although the mathematics
standards are weak in some areas, “This
document has gone a good distance toward being
specific…about how a student can be successful
in this system.”

The round table expects to present its
final version to the State Board of Education
in February.
The proposal has been sent to the
Commission for the Establishment of
Academic Content and Performance
Standards, created by the state legislature and
appointed last summer to develop content
standards in every subject and for each grade
level. State law requires that the state board
adopt standards for all students by 3998.

Although the new commission is charged
with developing the state’s model content and
performance standards and will make its own
recommendations on standards to the state
board next year, round table officials expect
their proposal will be well received.

“There is this consensus about the need
for standards and a total buy-in from the
higher education community and the business
community and parents that the
state of California needs to be clear about
what it is that high school graduates need to
know and be able to do,” said Dave Jolly,
coordinator of the round table project.

The draft standards also complement
those Eastin recommended for all students
and all subjects in her Challenge Initiative,
which fifty-five districts have voluntarily
adopted in the last year.

The group will next appoint task forces
to develop performance standards and
assessments in math and English.

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