Concerns of the Academic Senate CSU and the
CSU English Council Regarding the Draft Report,
"Content Standards in English for High School Graduates"

The Academic Senate CSU recognizes there is a serious problem in California regarding the readiness of high school graduates to undertake college-level work in English. Recent data indicate that between 42 and 48 percent of all entering CSU freshmen, and between 37 and 43 percent of all regularly admitted CSU freshmen, are not prepared for instruction in college-level English. The upgrading of high school graduation standards in English represent an important step in addressing this situation. However, the draft report, "Content Standards in English for High School Graduates", is only a draft, lacking an introduction that makes clear its purpose or implementation process.

The CSU English Council has reviewed the draft and has raised a number of questions regarding it, as follows:

"In general, the proposed standards set a high level of achievement for reading, using, and creating texts. They encompass different purposes and genres, demonstrate a strong awareness of the connection between reading and writing skills, and recognize revision as a necessary skill. The standards offer a good outline of the kinds of skills required for university work, as well as sample activities that could be used to develop or assess these skills. A student who could do all of these things competently would be extremely well-prepared for the university. As minimal competencies, however, the standards may be too demanding.

"Some of the statements are broad enough to require further definition. For example, under the ‘persuasive essay’ it says that the student ‘develops a central idea that conveys a clear and knowledgeable position.’ What might constitute ‘knowledgeable’ for a high school senior is surely different from what it would mean applied to a college junior or a graduate student. In addition, we need a definition of what critical thinking means in the high school context.

"The rhetorical approach, and the multiple genres required of the students, would seem to insure a broad-based writing ability well-suited to writing in various disciplines. However, high school English teachers will require sufficient rhetorical training to teach these concepts. Also, the teaching of literary criticism as proposed by the standards will require much more extensive and flexible training of high school teachers than is presently offered.

"High school students should and can be challenged to do more and think more than they comfortably can at the moment. Standards should be high, but our expectations should be tempered with reality. For example, is the State of California willing to put money into the effort to reduce English class sizes in high school so that teachers will have a realistic chance of meeting the standards? Are plans for implementation and for assessment in place? Without these, it is hard to tell whether or not the standards represent a workable target."

The Academic Affairs Committee of the Academic Senate CSU has raised other questions as well, including the need to address the situation of non-native speakers of English in Sections 2.4 and 2.5 (page 63) and in Sections 1.7 and 2.6 (page 64); and the need to incorporate more critical thinking dimensions, including the ability to differentiate between fiction and non-fiction.

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