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Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Lance Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in education policy and the author of several major PRI studies. [go to Izumi index]

A Statewide Cal-PASS?
Problems and solutions in California's higher education...
[Lance T. Izumi] 11/12/04

K-12 schools aren’t the only ones facing problems. In a recent report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (NCPPHE), California received mixed marks in key performance categories. The report was not all bad news and there are signs that things could be changing for the better.

California earned good marks for high enrollment in higher education, affordability of higher education, and the benefits to the state of a more highly educated populace. This good news, however, is balanced by California’s poorer performance in other categories.

The report gives California an “incomplete” grade in learning, principally because, unlike K-12 where students take standardized tests, there’s no way to measure and compare on a state-by-state basis what students learn in higher education. The report notes that there are exams like the Collegiate Learning Assessment for four-year students and the ACT Work Keys assessment for two-year students that seek to measure the performance and abilities of college graduates. These exams, however, aren’t in widespread use. Thus, while students may be earning degrees, it is unclear how much learning those degrees signify, especially given the high rates of English and math remediation needed by entering college freshmen.

Since high remediation rates stem from poor preparation in K-12 schools, it’s no surprise that California received only a “C” grade for its efforts to prepare students for higher education. The report found that only 33 percent of California high-school students are enrolled in upper-level math classes and only 18 percent are enrolled in science classes. Recent statewide test results show that nearly 80 percent of high-school juniors aren’t ready for college English. Meanwhile, there are some hopeful developments.

For example, an exciting new data collection program begun by the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District holds the potential for improving the preparation of students entering higher education. Dubbed Cal-PASS, the program collects, analyzes and shares student data between K-12 and higher education institutions in order to track performance and improve student success from elementary school through university. Specifically, Cal-PASS collects important basic student information, such as the courses taken by students, the grades they earn, and the outcome of their studies such as diplomas and degrees.

Until now, many in K-12 education didn’t know what was really expected by higher education. In English, for example, one analysis showed that high schools focused on literature, community colleges on composition, and universities on argumentation and rhetorical analysis. Cal-PASS data can be used to rectify this misalignment and improve student preparation.

Under Cal-PASS, councils with representatives from K-12 schools, community colleges and four-year universities meet to align curricula and instruction so that students have the knowledge and learning necessary to transition seamlessly from K-12 schools to higher education. In other words, knowing what is expected at the next level gives educators the information they need to prepare students better. Student performance and outcomes can then be tracked to determine the effectiveness of these alignment and preparation efforts.

So far, 631 K-12 schools, 54 community colleges and 13 universities are participating in Cal-PASS. The goal should be to turn Cal-PASS into a full statewide system. Doing so would reduce the need for remedial instruction, improve the odds of success for students in higher education, and raise the value of the degrees they earn. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute



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