Readiness challenges remain, but advances are real

Readiness challenges remain, but advances are real

(Calif.) As difficult as it has proven for state officials to clarify and communicate new goals surrounding college and career readiness, a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California is a good reminder of the progress so far.

The number of high school students that have completed the “A-G” coursework, as established under university admission rules, has grown from 35 percent in 2006 to 45 percent in 2016, according to the PPIC analysis.

Researchers also estimated that 35 percent of all students across the state in 2016 met or surpassed the state’s new accountability indicator for college and career readiness.

The California State Board of Education, along with Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders, have undertaken a massive restructuring of K-12 schools beginning with establishment of the Local Control Funding Formula in 2012 that gave control over billions of dollars in tax money to local school districts.

Along the way, the state has adopted new curriculum standards based on the Common Core and an entirely new computer-based testing program. Over the past two years, the state board has been concentrating on a new accountability system that uses a long list of evaluation measures to articulate school and student performance.

One area of struggle, however, has been with college and career readiness. A survey released last month from the Education Insights Center at California State University, Sacramento found teachers and school leaders are still struggling with what constitutes college and career ready given that there remains no statewide definition.

The center’s survey suggests that the Brown administration is caught between two policy objectives—one, to give schools the guidance educators appear to be looking for; and two, giving local school districts flexibility to meet community needs.

Of the two student goals, the state appears to have a far better handle on the academic side of readiness: the PPIC report found that about 40 percent of high school students are eligible to enroll in the California State University system, while about 14 percent meet the requirements for the University of California.

One reason that the state has enjoyed some recent success in preparing students for college is the Early Assessment Program, the PPI noted. The test is given to 11th graders in an effort to find those that will need extra work to qualify for UC or CSU.

Students who score in the highest level of the test are considered ready for college, and those who score in the second level are identified as “conditionally ready” and can become exempt from remediation course work by passing certain classes in their senior year.

In 2017, about 60 percent of 11th graders were considered ready or conditionally ready in English but only 38 percent in math.

Meanwhile, funding the money to pay for college remains are barrier: between 2012 and 2016, the number of high school seniors applying for financial aid increased by 13 percentage points for state financial aid and 5 percentage points for federal financial aid, the PPIC reported.