Graduating the Unprepared--Our Educational Disaster

William R. Hosek is dean of the College of Business Administration and Economics at Cal State Northridge

Basic skills testing within the California State University system confirms what CSU faculty have already known. Specifically, results of the Entry Level Mathematics (ELM) examination and English Placement Test (EPT) show that most freshmen entering the CSU system do not meet high school proficiency levels in reading, writing and mathematics.

This result is no surprise to faculty members at my campus who, because of anecdotal evidence and their own tests, have been complaining about poor student preparation for some years.

This lack of preparation is particularly striking because the students finished in the top one-third of their high school classes. You can imagine what the performance of the bottom two-thirds must be like. It should also be noted that these tests are required only of the students who fail to achieve exemption by other means. For example, students are exempt from the ELM and EPT requirements by scoring close to or above the 50th percentile on the verbal and quantitative portions of the SAT or ACT examinations.

Think about it: A significant number of students who finish in the top third of their California high school graduating classes are in the bottom half of high school graduates taking a standard national examination.

But let us bring this closer to home. The accompanying table lists the top 10 feeder senior high schools for Cal State Northridge, and the ELM and EPT pass rates for students taking those tests. The table also shows the percent of the incoming class that was exempt from each examination. (The data, the latest available, are for fall 1997).

The interpretation of the numbers is straightforward. Take the top feeder high school, North Hollywood. Of graduates entering the CSU system in fall 1997, 10% were exempt from the Entry Level Mathematics requirement; an additional 10% successfully passed the ELM examination, and the remaining 80% did not meet the minimum proficiency requirement in mathematics.

The schools listed are relatively close to CSUN, but students attending the university come from many high schools covering a wide geographic area. The ELM and EPT pass rates for those other schools are every bit as bad as the ones in the table.

The numbers paint a disturbing picture of far too many high schools graduating far too many students who cannot, at the high school level, comprehend what they read, cannot write clearly and correctly, and cannot do the mathematics required in this technological age.

The proximate location of this problem is, of course, the high schools themselves. If students cannot achieve high-school-level proficiency in the basic skills, why are they receiving high school diplomas? Further, why are students not achieving the appropriate proficiency levels while still in high school? The answers may be complicated, but it is neither the place of the CSU system, nor the place of the community college system to teach high-school-level material.

In searching for solutions, the welfare of the students, our children, must have top priority, for the future of our society depends upon their well-being. When we fail to encourage students to achieve their full potential, when we allow their minds to atrophy by setting hurdles that are too low, we damage them and set them up for future failure. It's a soft form of child neglect, and that's unforgivable in a civilized society.

As a start, demand that your high school administrators explain why their students are so unprepared. Get actively involved with your local PTA and other support organizations. Ask your children about the learning environment in their schools. Hold your elected school board members accountable for the performance of the schools in their districts. Your children's future may depend on your actions.


Top 10 Feeder High Schools for CSUN


PASS RATE EXEMPT HIGH SCHOOL ELM EPT ELM EPT North Hollywood 10% 18% 10% 12% Francis Polytechnic 11% 12% 8% 8% Granada Hills 13% 16% 33% 28% Van Nuys 12% 19% 33% 28% San Fernando 25% 12% 9% 0% James Monroe 12% 11% 16% 11% Chatsworth 17% 26% 19% 31% Grant 23% 15% 18% 28% Taft 24% 26% 25% 25% Sylmar 10% 15% 10% 5%


Sources: CSUN Factbook, 1996-'97, CSU web page at

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