The Early Assessment Program and the California Community Colleges

Posted by guest blogger Matthew Rosin, senior research associate, EdSource (Mountain View, CA).

This is my fourth and final post on California’s Early Assessment Program (EAP), which was developed by California State University (CSU) and California’s K–12 leaders to provide high school students with early signals about their college readiness. California students who participate in EAP testing as high school juniors can potentially achieve exemption from placement testing at CSU in English and/or mathematics. (In mathematics, students might also achieve a conditional exemption that is contingent on successful completion of a further, CSU-approved math course or activity prior to CSU enrollment.) Students assessed via the EAP as not ready for college in one or both of these subjects can prepare further during their senior year. These students are still subject to placement testing in the relevant subject(s) at CSU unless they achieve an exemption through other means.

The previous two posts focused on different patterns of student participation in EAP testing in English language arts and mathematics, based in part on differences in how the California Standards Tests (CSTs) are administered during the high school grades in these two subject areas.

This final post considers the implications of recent state legislation—Senate Bill (SB) 946 (2008)—that provides for community colleges to participate in the EAP beginning this year, in 2009–10. Participation is voluntary for community college districts, and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office is coordinating the program. According to a recent update on the policy by School Services of California (subscription required), the Chancellor’s Office expects to identify participating colleges in January 2010.

California’s 110 community colleges are open-access institutions. They offer an exceptionally wide variety of educational programs, and students pursue many different objectives. The campuses are diverse, reflecting variation between urban and rural communities in California, the state’s regional differences in terms of ethnic diversity, and local workforce and community needs. This diversity is also reflected in different practices for assessing and advising students on whether they need remediation in reading, writing or mathematics to succeed in college-level work.

Under SB 946, participating districts will use the existing EAP testing structure to potentially exempt students from placement testing. One goal of SB 946 is to send clearer signals to students that CSU and the California Community Colleges have analogous standards for transfer-level courses, while still assuring students of their eligibility to attend community college. Participating districts will also conduct outreach to local students about the program, coordinated with local CSU campuses.

In English language arts, the EAP appears to align well with the community colleges’ open-access mission. This is because EAP testing in English builds on a single test taken by effectively all 11th graders. Some observers hope community college involvement in the EAP will stir further participation among students who do not currently imagine attending a four-year university but may be considering a community college.

In mathematics, however, high school students take different tests depending on course-taking. As discussed previously, the EAP in math targets students who have enrolled in Algebra II by their junior year of high school—47% of high school juniors in 2009. The EAP in math will provide participating community college districts with a new way of reaching out these students. At the same time, this leaves open the question of how community colleges might provide additional feedback and support to the more than half of California high school juniors who have not yet reached Algebra II, and who may be more likely to rely on a community college for access to public higher education.

One broad implication: depending on whether high school tests are organized by grade level or are administered based on student course-taking, a state’s existing high school assessment system may present different opportunities for public colleges and universities to send early signals to prospective students about their college-readiness. High school tests organized by grade-level—such as California’s Grade 11 English Language Arts CST—provide a potentially broad reach. Tests administered based on student course-taking—such as the Algebra II and Summative High School Math CSTs—may provide for more targeted outreach. Each presents a different opportunity, and may have different implications for selective and open-access institutions.

This post is adapted from EdSource’s High School to Community College report (Nov. 2008), updated with 2009 testing data.

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