Half of Santa Monica-Malibu students not college ready

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Less than half of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District students evaluated for college preparedness are ready for their freshman year despite completing required coursework, district findings show.

College readiness is loosely defined as having the knowledge or skills to succeed in freshman-level courses at either a two or four-year university, said Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent of Educational Services at the district.

There are four measures of college readiness available through standardized tests given primarily to high school juniors, and none of them are encouraging.

Juniors who take the California Standards Test in summative mathematics, English or algebra II may also elect to answer a battery of questions called the “Early Assessment Program” which evaluates their college readiness.

College-readiness varied greatly between the tests, with 26 percent of those who took the summative math test and 39 percent of those who took the English test measuring ready for college.

Only 2 percent of those who took the algebra II test met that standard.

The last measure, based on SAT scores, was the most positive with 58 percent of test-takers ready for college compared to 43 percent nationally. Deloria stressed that those numbers could be misleading because not all students take the SAT.

To put it in perspective, Deloria showed a different figure, the percentage of students graduating from SMMUSD schools having passed the coursework required to move on in the California higher education system, often referred to as A through G requirements.

Approximately 75 percent of students managed to achieve that standard.

The takeaway?

“It’s not sufficient to say, ‘If I complete A through G courses, I’m ready for college,’” Deloria said.

Understanding math is the ticket 

New data compiled by Louise Jaffe, a Santa Monica College trustee, showed that how much math a student took in high school and the grades achieved was a good predictor for overall college readiness and success.

Jaffe studied 2,920 12th grade students, one-third of whom attended community college as freshmen.

She found that true mastery of middle school mathematics was critical to success in high school level math, which then paved the way for college.

Exit exams taken, which test seventh and eighth grade math skills, were predictive of later success, with 83 percent of those scoring at the top of the scale later proving ready for college-level math.

“My findings emphatically point back to middle school,” Jaffe said.

On the flipside, students who skipped math as seniors also tended to need remedial help when they got to college.

Math has long been recognized as a critical component to college readiness. According to a 2006 study, every course beyond algebra II doubled the odds of a student completing college.

For all that math and science are recognized as crucial to many occupations in the modern economy, the California Department of Education only requires two math courses between grades nine through 12 for graduation.

College readiness is important, and an ever-increasing amount of research is being done to assess it.

According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a nonprofit that in part seeks to ensure that people have the opportunities they need to succeed in school, notes that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to be employed and more money they earn through employment.

In 2008, the median earnings of those with a bachelor’s degree was $55,700 compared to $33,800 for a high school graduate, according to information in Deloria’s presentation.

Given those facts and Jaffe’s data, Deloria had a question for the board.

“Why would we let any senior not take math?” she said.

Deloria proposed a districtwide plan for assessing college readiness, taking a look at student scores in middle school and the beginning of high school to target for extra help or more challenging classes.

“If they decide not to go to college, that’s their choice,” Deloria said. “But it won’t be because they weren’t prepared when they leave our district.”