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85% of CSUN Freshmen Fall Short in Math : Education: Despite efforts at tougher standards, the number of students who must retake high school English or math has been rising.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 80% of the freshmen who entered Cal State Northridge this fall have been required to take one or more remedial classes in math or English, reflecting a national decline in student achievement, campus officials said Tuesday.

The campus’ share of under-prepared students--those who must retake high school level courses--has been rising in recent years but educators can’t agree on the reasons, with some blaming students and others blaming high schools.

“This is a national problem, and a very serious problem,” acknowledged CSUN Provost Louanne Kennedy. “I don’t know what the answer is. But I know the answer cannot be that we abandon our commitment to educating the students of the state.”

At a meeting later this month, the California State University system’s Board of Trustees is expected to receive a report showing the extent of the problem among the 20 Cal State campuses. Some trustees already have been demanding that under-prepared students be sent to community colleges before enrolling at a Cal State campus in part because of the high cost of educating them.

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Trustees must decide whether the system--which aims to serve the top one-third of California’s high school graduates--will continue offering remedial programs that cost millions of dollars each year or drop them altogether.

Cal State state officials for the past decade have been trying to reduce the need for remedial classes by toughening admissions standards. But a recent system report concluded that demand for the courses has continued to grow.

Cal State officials said Tuesday that they have not finished compiling campus-by-campus statistics, which will be part of the report to trustees. And CSUN officials said Tuesday that they did not have available statistics from previous years to compare changes in the number of students taking remedial courses.

But among the 1,800 students in CSUN’s freshman class this year, 85% have been told they must take one or two remedial, non-college-credit math classes. And about 78% have been told they must take one or two remedial English writing classes, Kennedy said.

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Until 1993, CSUN students could still enroll in regular college-level classes, including English and math, before completing their remedial classes. But since then, Kennedy said, students now must complete their remedial classes during their first two semesters.

Freshmen must take remedial courses if they score poorly on required placement tests, one in math and another in English. Students can skip the tests if they score highly enough on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Some educators blame the large number of under-prepared students on declines in the quality of high school education in the state.

“The teachers are going downhill, and the students are learning less and less,” said James Neal, director of testing at Cal State Long Beach.

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Others blame growth in the number of minority students and the urban poor, including those whose native language is not English. And some educators blame the placement tests, saying they underrate the actual skills of minorities and women.


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