Which school do you want to support?
Most parents expect K-12 education to prepare their kids for success in college. This is too often a flawed assumption.
It doesn't help anyone when students bomb out.
To qualify for one of California's four-year colleges, students need to take and pass the set of courses known as the a-g requirements. They need to take the right tests, including either the ACT or SAT exam. But are they ready?
In order to ensure that new students are ready for college-level academic work, colleges have long used placement tests. These tests indicate if a student needs some extra work to master stuff they should have learned in high school. If not, students have to take some refresher classes before they can progress toward their degree. This remedial coursework is burdensome to the student as well as to the institutions that provide it.
Students who score well on the CAASPP test don't have to take a placement exam to earn college credit.
In the past, college placement tests were a messy process, but this part of the California education system now works rather smoothly. In their junior year, California high school students take the 11th grade CAASPP test, a computer-adaptive exam.
By taking this test, students are automatically enrolled in the Early Assessment Program (EAP). Students who score well on the CAASPP test don’t have to take a placement exam to avoid remedial coursework when they go to schools in the California State University (CSU) or the California Community Colleges (CCC). This saves them time and perhaps money. Only a quarter of students clearly "place out" of remedial coursework using the EAP in English, and the rate is considerably lower in math (see graph). Students who do not meet readiness criteria by the 11th grade need to continue taking courses in the 12th grade.
It might seem obvious for these tests to be aligned between high school and college. Of course it makes sense for high school standards, college placement requirements, and standardized testing systems to be connected, right? But it actually took years to put this system into place. The Early Assessment Program serves as evidence that with persistence big systems really can be made to work together.
A leaky bucket carries students from kindergarten through college. Most fall out along the way. Even those students who finish high school ready for college do not necessarily go to college. The school system is not necessarily set up to encourage them to do so. A student’s interest in college may not translate into action, especially without support.
Virtually all California high schools long ago reduced the number of college counselors on their staffs. California consistently ranks at or near the bottom in the ratio of students to counselors in American public schools. Even doubling the number of counselors would not bring California up to the average of other states. (See Lesson 8.2.)
These programs help advance students to college by directly and practically supporting them through the application process.
Under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) there are no special funds set aside for college counseling. School districts have the power to invest in college counselors or other college-going strategies, but aren't required to do so. Some schools assign a faculty member to serve as a counselor. Others contract with a partner program such as AVID and College Summit. These programs focus on the nuts-and-bolts process of college application, admission and enrollment, helping students individually. They also work with high school faculty to help them develop a college-going culture among student peer groups. LinkForward.org is a set of online and mobile apps to help high school students chart their path to college.
Lacking counselors, most school districts invest little or nothing in services to support students in the college-going process. It's a remarkable blind spot.
California's taxpayers invest tens of thousands of dollars in each student to support them through 13 years of K-12 education, but the system has no built-in incentive to support students as they advance Beyond 12. In 2017, the state took a small step by adding a college-going element to the California School Dashboard. Perhaps making this systemic point of failure more visible will spur school districts, counties, or community foundations to invest in reducing it.
Private college counseling has become a flourishing profession in California. Families that can afford it spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to get help with the process of applying to colleges and searching for sources of financial aid.
So what percentage of California’s high school students actually go to college?
An excellent question, which we will tackle in Lesson 9.8. First, let's explore a little bit about what it takes to answer questions like that. California's data systems for education are in a terrible condition.
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