Proficiency Levels of CSU Freshmen Increase

(Jan. 29, 2003) -- Proficiency levels of California State University's freshmen who entered in fall 2002 increased to 41 percent, a 3 percentage point jump from last year and a notable 9 percentage point increase from 1998, when the CSU implemented a Board of Trustees policy to diagnose proficiency and begin early remediation at CSU campuses and public high schools.

"Proficiency improvements in entering freshmen signal that CSU's approach to resolving remedial problems of first-year freshmen is beginning to show results," said David Spence, CSU's executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer. The approach includes giving clear definitions of the skills the students must bring to college, completing early assessment of those skills, and providing the opportunities to make up deficiencies before entering college.

To that end, the CSU established special academic preparation programs to students enrolled in public K-12 schools who need stronger math and English skills to succeed in college. "Early introduction of these programs in high school or prior to the first term in college is helping to reduce the need for remedial education in college freshmen," Spence said.

CSU-bound students are becoming proficient more rapidly in mathematics than in English. For example, 63 percent of fall 2002 freshmen were proficient in math, an increase of 9 percentage points from last year. Fifty-one percent of fall 2002 freshmen were proficient in English, a decrease of 3 percentage points from last year. Student math proficiency levels are progressing toward the goals set by the trustees of 74 percent by 2004 and 90 percent by 2007.

English proficiency levels, however, are still far from that goal, and one problem is the lack of critical reading skills, Spence said. Contributing factors may include lack of reading academic programs in high school and difficulties associated with second language acquisition, he said.

To continue improving proficiency levels and providing clear definitions of the skills required of first-year freshmen, the CSU introduced two new approaches in 2001- 02.

First, it re-examined the math test and modified it following recommendations from CSU math department chairs. The revised test focuses more on problem solving and better reflects the algebra and geometry skills that CSU math professors expect students to have in the first year of college.

Second, the CSU created a Professional Reading Institute that trains 11th-grade reading instructors in the use of new techniques to teach reading comprehension and critical reading. This program may begin to show results in two or three years.

Since early assessment is the key to helping high school students identify their strengths and those areas needing additional work, the CSU, working with the state Board of Education, this spring will pilot an expanded 11th grade California Standards Test in math and English. Students completing the test would know as they enter 12th grade whether they meet CSU proficiency expectations or must further sharpen their skills. As part of its annual report to the Trustees, the CSU assessed the progress of freshmen who entered in fall 2001 and needed remediation. Ninety-six percent of those taking English and/or math remedial courses prior to their sophomore year reached proficiency. That percentage is consistent with the results of CSU remediation courses for first-year freshmen in previous years and demonstrates the progress achieved by those taking courses offered by CSU campuses.

The California State University is the largest system of senior higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, 406,000 students and 44,000 faculty and staff. Since the system was created in 1961, it has awarded about 2 million degrees. The CSU is renowned for the quality of its teaching and for the job-ready graduates it produces. Its mission is to provide high- quality, affordable education to meet the ever-changing needs of the people of California. With its commitment to excellence, diversity and innovation, the CSU is the university system that is working for California. See www.calstate.edu.

Contact: Clara Potes-Fellow (562) 951-4806, cpotes-fellow@calstate.edu


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Last Updated: 29 January 2003

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