High School Grads Lacking Math, English Skills

11:24 PM PST on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

High schools think they’re preparing students for college, but when many graduates get there, they have to take remedial classes, Inland educators say.

Statewide, about 90 percent of California’s community college students need remedial math and 75 percent need remedial English.


California Partnership for Achieving Student Success

High School to College: The New Alignment

The Early Assessment Program helps students measure their readiness for college-level English and mathematics in 11th grade and improve their skills in 12th grade

Statistics from the Riverside Community College District show that it’s even worse here.

Almost 96 percent of first-time freshmen must take remedial math, and 82 percent must take remedial English.

It’s not just pre-calculus or even algebra that students haven’t mastered. Some high school graduates need remedial arithmetic, according to the community colleges.

At Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, 97 percent of new students need at least one pre-collegiate class, said Cheryl Marshall, vice president for instruction.

Those far behind colleges’ expectations can catch up, but it may take them years, Marshall said.

“We’re not always successful in keeping those students,” she said.


Students need remedial math for various reasons, Riverside City College math instructor Pamela Whelchel said. Some learned algebra and geometry or even calculus in high school, but didn’t study or review for the placement test. Some students forgot the math they once knew.

RCC student Fadi Dib, 19, said he took Algebra 2 in high school but needed a refresher in the subject. He was working elementary algebra problems in Whelchel’s math lab recently.

“Math, if you don’t keep practicing on it, you’ll forget it,” Dib said.

Whelchel said the class is comparable to high school Algebra 1, which California expects students to master by the ninth grade.

Chris Contreras, 21, one of her students, remembered the Algebra 1 he took in high school as way easier than the work he was doing recently in RCC’s math lab..

Marshall said Crafton Hills is trying to encourage students to review the subject before they take placement tests when they enter community college.


States tell high schools what to teach, so students can pass standardized tests required by No Child Left Behind, which set federal requirements for school testing. But those requirements have been academic minimums, not what students need to succeed in college.

Daniel Martinez, Riverside Community College District’s associate dean of institutional research, said California’s high school standards just don’t line up with college expectations.

Closing that gap was the impetus for the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success.

Martinez and Marshall both said they are involved with the Cal-PASS, which is starting conversations between high school teachers and college faculty, they said.

The idea is to look at what classes a student took at Norco High School, for instance, and then at Norco College, Martinez said. The intention, he said, is for college faculty and high school teachers to work together, so that students don’t need remedial classes.

So far, those conversations have been too few and far between, said Pam Clute, UC Riverside vice provost of educational partnerships.

Too often, she said, bridges between institutions are barriers instead. The University of California puts out documents of what it expects of college freshmen, but she said high schools have paid little attention. Schools have been forced to focus on state requirements and No Child Left Behind.

San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Gary S. Thomas said Wednesday that schools recently started encouraging 11th-graders to take Cal State University system’s Early Assessment Program. The EAP adds higher level math and an English essay to the California Standards Tests that all students take. It tells 11th-graders if they’re ready to succeed in college, and, if not, what they need to learn in 12th grade.

Three community colleges in San Bernardino County — Crafton Hills, Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga and Victor Valley College in Victorville — and UC Riverside now also accept those test results, which he said will help high schools realign curriculum to prepare students for college. Although other colleges, such as San Bernardino Valley College, haven’t signed formal agreements to accept EAP, Thomas said he believes they will also consider the results.

Having most colleges and universities use a single test to measure students’ preparation, “that to me is golden,” Thomas said.


Corona-Norco Unified School District officials say they want to change their curriculum so all students will be ready for college and careers.

Deputy Superintendent Gregory Plutko said that his staff wants to start with college expectations in redesigning the curriculum, working back from 12th grade eventually to kindergarten.

The Cal State University system has developed a curriculum for high school teachers to fill the gap between the typical 12th-grade English language arts class and what college professors expect of incoming freshmen, said Jan Stallones, a Corona-Norco teacher working on that project.

Getting students to read and write more nonfiction is key, she said.

Consultant Jay Westover, co-founder and chief learning officer of InnovateED, told the Corona-Norco board that the Early Assessment Program developed by Cal State also shows students which courses they need to master for college success. Eleventh-graders can take the early assessment to point to the classes they will need in 12th grade to avoid remediation when they get to college.

Stallones said that since almost half of Corona-Norco’s high school English teachers now have been trained in a Cal State English course “we’ve seen our college readiness scores jump by 6 percent.”

Plutko said the district also is looking at how many students take the Cal State readiness test in 11th grade and comparing its results with classes that 12th-graders actually take.

He said the district can require a third year of high school math. Universities require three years of high school math, whereas only two are required to graduate from high school.

That preparation is important because even students who don’t go to college don’t feel well-prepared for their careers if they didn’t complete Algebra 2 or more advanced math in high school, Westover said.

Clute, of UCR, said 62 percent of jobs, even entry-level jobs, require employees to be proficient in algebra, geometry, data interpretation and statistics.

Reach Dayna Straehley at 951- 368-9455 or dstraehley@PE.com

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