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California Colleges, High Schools Collaborate

In an effort to reduce the number of students who come to campus needing remedial help in reading, writing, and mathematics skills, the California State University system paired up with some high schools in the state. CSU faculty members work with high school teachers to ensure that students get the material they need to prepare for college. Included: A description of the Collaborative Academic Preparation Initiative.

California State University (CSU) system officials have found a way to cut down on the number of students who need remedial classes: Help them before they get to campus.

Through CSU's Collaborative Academic Preparation Initiative (CAPI) program, mathematics and English faculty from the CSU system work with high school teachers to develop more effective ways of preparing students for college work.

In 2001, CSU allocated $9 million to the CAPI program. One hundred eighty-seven CSU faculty members from 19 colleges worked with teachers at the 172 high schools in the state with the largest number of students who need remedial help when they get to one of the 23 CSU colleges.

"The key is the CSU English and math faculty," says Allison Jones, assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs for the CSU system. "They [the high schools] are aligning their standards with our requirements. We are strengthening the collaboration."

By fall 2007, CSU officials aim to have 90 percent of entering students proficient in math and English. Jones said he did not know whether reducing the number of remedial courses would result in savings for the system. "This has never been a cost issue."

PROFICIENCY ON THE RISE

In 1996, responding to requests from faculty members, CSU staff began working with high schools to reduce the large number of entering students who needed remedial help. "They were finding that students were not coming in with adequate level skills for a bachelor's degree," Jones told Education World.

CSU faculty members began working with high school teachers about five hours a week for 30 weeks, said Jones. CSU staff and students also began tutoring high school students. Students admitted to a CSU college took proficiency tests before fall enrollment so they could complete necessary remedial courses during the summer.

In 1998, the CSU system also tightened its requirements for completing remediation: Students who did not complete remedial courses in reading and math by their sophomore year faced "disenrollment" (expulsion) from college.

Some improvements were seen quickly. In the fall of 1998, 46 percent of entering students were proficient in math, compared with 54 percent in fall 2001. The percentage of those proficient in English, though, was 54 percent in 1998 and 54 percent again in 2001, according to Jones.

The message that the colleges take proficiency seriously is getting through. Eighty-one percent of students who entered in the fall of 2000 needing remediation completed the required courses by fall 2001, according to the CSU system. And 2,277 students were disenrolled in January for not completing their remedial courses within a year.

LEARNING WHAT COLLEGE TAKES

Staff members at two participating schools told Education World that they hoped participating in CAPI would increase the number of their students who attend college -- and make it easier for them when they get to campus.

"We wanted our kids to get to a university without needing remedial work, and we wanted to align the curriculum so they had what they needed when they got there," says Gloria Samson, principal of Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, California, which has been a CAPI school since 1999.

Since working with faculty from San Diego State University, Castle Park teachers have gained a better understanding of the skills students will need after graduation, Samson said. The school's English curriculum now stresses writing skills and building vocabulary, and the school offers more upper-level mathematics courses.

Between 20 and 25 percent of the school's population goes on to higher education; about 10 percent of those attend a CSU college, Samson said. Lack of academic preparation and finances are the primary reasons most students do not attend college. "We hope to increase the number who go on."

At Helix High School, a charter school in La Mesa, CAPI ties in with the school's Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, designed to prepare students to apply to colleges.

Math and English faculty at Helix re-enforce a lot of the skills students need for CSU placement tests, according to AVID teacher Gerry Kirk. About 35 percent of the school's graduates attend a CSU college, he said.

"This lets kids know what the standards are and what's expected," Kirk told Education World. "Certainly, kids need to become aware of the requirements universities have. Before, only a few knew about the [placement] tests. Now they know about the tests and the content."