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CSU Moves to Scale Back Remedial Classes : Report: Study shows that fewer incoming freshmen than last year at Northridge campus are academically prepared for college-level courses.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than two-thirds of this year’s freshman class at Cal State Northridge arrived unprepared to handle college-level math and English classes and needed remedial help, a substantial increase from just a year ago, according to a new campus report.

The report, released amid a heated state debate over student preparedness, showed that 70% of the fall 1994 freshmen were not prepared to handle college-level math, up from 60.6% in fall 1993.

And the share of CSUN’s latest freshman class found not prepared for college-level English courses hit 69.3%, up from 63.3% the year before, according to campus researchers.

CSUN officials Wednesday were hard-pressed to explain the marked increases. The bad news came as the board of trustees of the Cal State University system, meeting in Long Beach, voted to seek ways to curb the need for remedial classes at its 20 campuses.

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Hans Ladanyi, CSUN’s director of institutional research, said he was reluctant to draw many conclusions from a single year-to-year comparison. But he speculated the change may have been due to increasing numbers of minorities and immigrants among CSUN’s freshmen, because both groups tend to score lower than others on such standardized tests.

“I think we’re in one of the biggest societal shifts we’ve ever experienced, and this is just one facet of that,” said Ladanyi, himself a 1985 immigrant from Austria. Although Ladanyi was fluent in English, he recalled struggling with readings en route to receiving a doctoral degree because English was not his native language.

Most Cal State freshmen are required to take standardized math and English tests as a prerequisite for enrollment in college-level courses. Those who fail the tests must take one or two semesters of remedial education.

Ladanyi said he did not believe the lower scores on the placement tests necessarily mean this year’s freshmen are not as academically qualified as last year’s.

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The two classes were not substantially different in high school tests or grades, nor was there an increase in the share of CSUN freshmen admitted under special, relaxed standards, he said.

However, the number of Latinos in CSUN’s freshman classes increased from 562 in fall 1993 to 654 in fall 1994, and the number of blacks increased from 199 to 247 during the same period, Ladanyi said.

Some educators, including some at CSUN, believe standardized tests, including the freshman proficiency exams, tend to be biased against students from minority groups and different cultural backgrounds. Language skills come into play, as many students whose first language is not English struggle with the tests.

Throughout the Cal State system, the number of freshmen found to be ill-prepared for college has been steadily rising for the past five years. In 1993, the most recent year for which systemwide statistics are available, 48.8% of freshmen were not prepared for college-level English and 47.2% were not prepared for college-level math, Cal State officials said.

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However, during a session when some Cal State trustees advocated phasing out remedial classes that do not count for college credit and sending those students instead to community colleges, CSUN President Blenda J. Wilson emerged as one of the strongest proponents for keeping the classes.

“These are students who did perform to the standards of the high schools they graduated from. If there is a failure in the high schools, the people we need to talk to are the people in the high schools,” Wilson told the trustees during their Tuesday session. She also cautioned that students in the classes often are smart but just need help with skills.

Back at CSUN, other educators argued they have proof that remedial courses work.

CSUN math professor Elena Marchisotto, for example, said her years of research show that remedial students at CSUN who go on to take regular freshman math classes the next semester generally have passing rates in those classes as high or higher than other students.

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And Roberta Madison, a CSUN professor of health sciences, said a study she completed several years ago found CSUN students who took a remedial course in math or English ultimately had the same graduation rates as other students. Graduation rates, however, were slightly lower for students who took both remedial English and math, she said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

College Readiness Portion of incoming CSUN freshmen who failed to pass Cal State placement tests.*Fall 1993 English: 63.3% Mathematics: 60.6% *

Fall 1994 English 69.3% Mathematics: 70,0% * Out of total group of students who either took the standardized tests or proved proficiency through other means. Source: CSUN data.

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