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Reducing numbers in remedial classes goal for high schools, colleges

Early Assessment Program addresses weak points early on
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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Teachers and professors hope identifying points where students struggle, mingling subject matter across the board and better aligning high school and college curriculums could reduce the number of students in remedial classes once they start pursing degrees.

Academic deans at Sierra College believe the path past remedial classes at the college level starts in high school classes. Anne Fleischmann, associate dean of liberal arts at Sierra College, said students at the college take the Accuplacer test to see where their reading, writing and math skills are.

The school also offers supplemental tutoring, a writing center and a bridge course in the summer that allows students to catch up in areas where they might have fallen behind. There is also the first-year experience program that helps students get used to college, as well as the workshops that help students with test anxiety and research and study skills.

Unfortunately, Fleischmann said the only one of those options that helps students before they enter the classroom at Sierra is the summer bridge program. That's why she feels the Early Assessment Program, which tests students during their junior year of high school, is so important.

"Then they still have their senior year to get better," Fleischmann said.

The Early Assessment Program was created in 2004 to assess college readiness in high school students by California State University. The assessment is not required, but is given with the California Standards Test at Placer High School, according to Katie Chamberlin, a counselor at the school.

According to a presentation on the Early Assessment Program, 23 percent of students that go to California State University were ready for college-level English in 2011. Fifteen percent were ready for college-level math.

The 25,000 freshmen who have to take remedial math and English classes also took required college preparatory classes and held a B average in high school, according to the presentation.

The Early Assessment Program includes an essay test and extra English and math questions with the California Standards Test. Students who score a 1 are exempt from remedial classes and the Accuplacer test at Sierra College and could have to take an English assessment, Calculus Readiness Test or Intermediate Algebra Diagnostic Test if they choose to go to California State University.

Students who score a 2 on the test are classified as "conditional" and can go through a preparatory math course their senior year to get ready for college-level math classes when they reach Sierra. Students who score a 3 on the test are required to take the Accuplacer test at Sierra and, based on their results, are either placed in remedial math or English or can move on to college-level classes.

Michael Kane, associate dean of math and science at Sierra, said part of the reason for students being placed in remedial classes lies in the amount of time that passes between when they take math in high school and when they are later tested on it.

"Math in many ways resembles a foreign langue; if you don't use it, it goes away," Kane said. "They also don't do very well sometimes because they don't put enough seriousness into the assessment because of all the paperwork and enrollment procedures, they don't understand the consequences of taking it seriously."

He also said getting teachers at both the high school and college level talking about what they're teaching is also important to getting students ready for college.

"The assumption is that your curriculum isn't at an appropriate level, but getting those instructors into one room and showing them that their intermediate algebra class is similar to our intermediate algebra class shows it's not that we're not teaching the right stuff," Kane said.

At Placer High, Chamberlin said some of the senior curriculum has been realigned to provide math and English that can better prepare those students who score a 2 or 3 on the Early Assessment Program.

That has presented challenges as Placer High and every other school prepares to align its curriculum to the Common Core Standards by 2014.

"It's a little more complicated than we had hoped," Chamberlin said. "We're jumping through these hoops, but then it's going to change again."

Kane and Fleischmann both agree that a blending of subjects would help getting students ready for college. That would entail writing being taught across the curriculum and using math in classes where it usually would appear, rather than restricting math to math class and English to English class.

"The real world doesn't work that way. An engineer doesn't just crunch numbers, they have to interact with team members and write reports, but we don't teach that way, unfortunately," Kane said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.