Academic Senate

An Early Assessement of the Early Start Program

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Robert Buckley (Sacramento)
Chair, Academic Preparation & Education Programs Committee

In May of 2009 the Board of Trustees passed the policy requiring implementation of the Early Start Program (ESP), requiring students admitted to a CSU campus that were identified as not proficient in math and/or English to enroll in summer courses designed to facilitate achieving proficiency in the summer before their first semester.  The rationale for this initiative was “to enhance retention and improve graduation rates by helping students to achieve basic proficiency in Mathematics and reading/writing more quickly.” A task force was established that worked through the summer and fall of 2008 to prepare an implementation plan. 

As chair of the Academic Preparation and Education Programs Committee (APEP), I continue to be concerned about the efficacy of the Early Start Program and to emphasize the need for objective assessments of the program.  The 2008 Task Force Report prepared for the Executive Vice Chancellor recommended that standardized assessments be implemented that would include whether or not the average number of units required to reach proficiency had been significantly reduced.  In addition, the assessment should provide evidence of differences in retention rates and time to degree between those proficient at admission and those not proficient.  Other comparisons should assess the differences in first year GPA, academic standing, grades in GE math and English of students requiring remediation before and after the implementation of ESP. It is important to note that the Task Force was provided with no evidence of significant differences in the success indicators between students proficient at admission and those that were not.

Furthermore, there was no evidence that significant numbers of students not proficient at admission were unable to attain proficiency in the first year as required by Executive Order 665.   In fact, CSU campuses had been quite successful providing the appropriate course work that allowed first-time freshmen to complete their proficiency requirement during their first academic year. The required annual “Disenrolled Students Report” submitted to the Department of Finance and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in May 2009 indicated that 27,735 entering freshman in fall 2007 needed remediation.  One year later, only 8.3% had not completed their remediation within 1 year and were disenrolled in fall 2008.  Clearly 91.7% did attain proficiency.  In fact, during the work of the Task Force, improvement in proficiency at the end of the first year was not given as a reason for initiating ESP.

Included in the rationale for the development of ESP was the impact on time to degree resulting from remedial units (which did not count towards graduation) thus increasing time to degree.  At that time the Task Force was aware of the use of directed self-placement and the use of “stretch programs” to provide for proficiency in English.  These programs had demonstrated success and also provided students with six units that did count towards graduation. Since that time, a number of campuses have adopted the “stretch program” approach and have provided evidence of their success.  Exempting students attending those campuses with such programs would save money for both the students and the universities.  At a meeting of the ESP Implementation Team it was recommended that the Board of Trustees be provided with this evidence along with a recommendation to approve such exemptions.

In addition, support should be given to the Math Council to work on the development of a “stretch program” in math.  One such approach is the use of Statway™, which provides for the development of mathematics skills essential for a growing number of occupations and professions, and needed for making decisions in everyday life. This is the math that will help students understand the world around them, and it is the math they can use right now. Such a course would also provide for units that would count toward the degree.

As for last summer’s first year implementation of the ESP, the Board of Trustees was provided with the following summary of data.  Completion rates for those students who registered in math and English were less than 100%, but not necessarily unexpected.  However, the percentage of those students achieving proficiency is much less encouraging.

Early Start article graph

The severe limitations on resources available to campuses require that these resources be allocated in such a manner as to maintain the quality of the education provided to our students.  In the case of the continuance of our Early Start Program, a thorough and independent cost benefit analysis should be conducted.  This type of assessment must look at the net increase in costs to our students, the costs to administer the program, and the costs of providing the curriculum and instruction.  These costs need to be balanced against objective evidence of the savings to students and to the campuses.  Opinions and anecdotal data should not be considered as evidence for efficacy of ESP.


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