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First-Year Freshmen to Get Academic Support to Increase College Readiness

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High school counselor Diana Miler knows the importance of supporting her students in their academic preparation for the rigors of college. With new, sweeping California State University policy changes to help students needing academic support in college-level math and English courses, Miler wanted to know more.

Miler works with students and parents at Marina High School in the Huntington Beach Union High School District to guide them toward college plans. She was among the nearly 200 Orange County high school counselors and administrators at Cal State Fullerton’s Early Assessment Program’s “College Readiness Breakfast,” held on campus in January.

CSU and CSUF leaders presented information about the steps the CSU is taking to remove barriers, more accurately assess student placement, reduce gaps, increase persistence, and shorten timeframes to earn a college degree for students who are admitted, but not ready for college-level coursework.

The new CSU Academic Preparation policy, adopted last year, represents a significant, yet innovative change, and outlines changes to the assessment of academic preparation, and placement in first-year math and English courses for incoming freshmen beginning in fall 2018.

“The goal is to reduce barriers and timeframes to graduation for first-year students by giving them the academic support they need at the start of their college journey,” said Larry R. Chapa, CSUF’s Early Assessment Program and college readiness senior coordinator, who organized the event.

“The changes are aimed at providing more innovative and targeted academic support to help students achieve, which will also reduce the time to earn their degree,” Chapa added.  

One of the most substantial policy changes is the elimination of remedial coursework, which means that incoming freshmen will no longer be required to take courses that do not apply toward a degree, Chapa pointed out.

Instead, new first-year students needing academic support will enroll in credit-bearing courses that strengthen skills development and count toward earning a baccalaureate degree. These could include a “stretch” course, which is “stretched” over two semesters to help students succeed in the class. Additionally, students may also enroll in a credit-bearing support course, such as peer-to-peer supplemental instruction.

Another significant change is the adoption of a “multiple measures” model designed to more accurately gauge a high school student’s college readiness and course placement. Along with standardized test scores, such as the SAT and ACT, these measures may include completed high school coursework, high school GPA, grades in collegiate courses, and Advanced Placement scores, said speaker Carolina C. Cardenas, CSU director of academic preparations, policies and programs.

“High school grades, when used as one of the multiple measures, are shown to be a stronger predictor of how likely students are to achieve course outcomes,” Cardenas noted.

Miler agreed and is supportive of the change: “I think using multiple measures is an important change. Students who have to take remediation classes often get discouraged and don’t complete their post-secondary education goals.

“It’s great that the CSU is looking at other factors beyond a placement test that may not be a true reflection of the student’s capabilities. The end result is that students who really need the extra support can be successful.”

Over the last 20 years, the CSU and CSUF have made steady progress to help high school students become prepared for college-level courses. Efforts have included strengthening partnerships with school districts and school adoption of the CSU’s Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum. The college preparatory English-language arts course for 12th grade students is designed to develop students’ academic literacy for post-secondary success.

As a result, the majority of incoming freshmen prepared for the CSU has doubled — from 32 percent in 1995 to 62 percent in 2016, Cardenas said. At CSUF, 81.4 percent of new freshmen in 2016 were prepared for college courses in math and English, Chapa added.