After six years of efforts to get 11th-graders ready for college, most are still unprepared by the time they reach their final year of high school.
Results released Monday from a statewide assessment program show high school juniors are slightly better prepared for college English and math than they were six years ago, but about 80% still would struggle to pass a college course.
Fresno County students lag behind the state as a whole. About 10% of high school juniors in Fresno County are ready for college math courses and 17% are prepared for college English.
"We're not where where we need to be," said Larry Powell, Fresno County superintendent of schools. "We need to be where every kid who wants to go to college is ready to go."
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The Early Assessment Program is a collaborative effort between the California State University system, the California Department of Education and the California State Board of Education to make sure college-bound students have the skills they need for classes at CSU. The test is a warning to students who aren't ready for college and helps assess which skills they should spend their senior year working on.
CSU Chancellor Charles Reed joined State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to discuss the results Monday morning and the officials trumpeted the results as an improvement over previous years.
"High school kids in California are moving in the right direction," Reed said.
The trend is upward -- but only slightly. Since 2006, when CSU started collecting the data, the number of students statewide who are ready for college English has increased from 15% to 22%. Fifteen percent of students tested ready for math this year compared to 12% in 2006.
More students are taking the optional test, thanks to encouragement by teachers and administrators. About 81% of the state's 11th-grade students took the test this year, which includes a jump in the number of students taking the Algebra II portion of the test.
"If students are able to be successful at Algebra II, they can be successful at college" math, said Dave Calhoun, executive director of research evaluation and assessment at Fresno Unified School District.
Yet most students have not been successful. Statewide, 8% of students tested ready for college-level Algebra II, and some Fresno-area schools performed worse: 1% of Fresno Unified juniors and 2% of Central Unified juniors are ready for college algebra. Clovis performed better, with 20% of students prepared.
Powell said Algebra II is much harder than its prerequisite classes, and students don't have the support they need to do well. He said school districts are working to direct more resources to help college-bound students pass Algebra II and continue taking rigorous math courses through their senior year.
Powell said more students are beginning to realize the importance of math for college preparation -- even if the test scores don't reflect that shift.
"You're starting to see a drive that wasn't there before," he said. "Kids cannot loaf."
For CSU, the results have taken on a new sense of urgency. Well-prepared students will help CSU save money on remedial education, bolster the quality of students who enroll and improve graduation rates, Reed said.
Students who aren't ready for college require remedial education classes, which cost the university system $30 million a year. Out of the 47,885 freshmen enrolled at CSU in 2010, 40,514 needed remedial education.
Reed said a larger pool of college-ready students will also make CSU more competitive.
Historically, top-scoring students have gone to the University of California or private colleges, but as high schools produce more qualified students, more will turn to CSU.
Dennis Nef, Fresno State's dean of undergraduate studies, said he hasn't seen a significant improvement.
The number of students prepared for college-level math has remained about the same since 2007. Half of the freshman class at Fresno State last year took remedial math.