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The California State University early Assessment Program.(Report).

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Abstract: The California State University (CSU) requires entering freshmen to be proficient in English reading and writing, as demonstrated on proficiency measures. Currently, approximately 46 percent of incoming college freshmen need remediation in English reading and writing. To assist these students, CSU instituted an Early Assessment Program (EAP), which includes measuring students' readiness at the end of their junior year in high school and providing a twelfth grade Expository Reading and Writing Course (ERWC) in which to improve their skills if they are not proficient. A pilot study demonstrated that students participating in the ERWC outperformed students who took senior year English classes. The authors describe the EAP and the professional development component, the Reading Institute for Academic Proficiency.

Keywords: college preparation, expository reading and writing, professional development, writing proficiency


As the percentage of high school students pursuing a four-year college degree continually increases, the demands placed on high schools to adequately prepare these students for college-level reading and writing also continually increase. A lack of preparedness is evident at the university level as a growing number of incoming freshmen arrive ill-equipped for college-level reading and writing (California State University [CSU] Analytic Studies 2006; CSU Public Affairs 2007), especially the challenging expository materials required in most college classes (The Chronicle of Higher Education 2007; CSU 2007c; Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates for California Community Colleges 2002).

Accordingly, many universities are seeing an increase in the number of incoming freshmen who require remediation in reading and writing before they take the required courses for their bachelor's degree. This increased need for remediation places a significant burden on both the incoming freshmen, who are required to take courses that do not count as credit toward their bachelor's degree, and those in the university system because they are required to provide these remediation services to more than half of their incoming student populations (CSU 2006a). This problem is not localized to California, and it probably will continue to increase throughout the country in the future.

CSU requires that students be proficient in English reading and writing, as demonstrated by required scores on English placement tests, SATs, and other proficiency measures. Currently, approximately 46 percent of the 45,961 incoming college freshmen need remediation in English reading and writing before they are proficient (CSU 2006a). Approximately 21,000 freshmen took the required college preparatory curriculum and earned at least a B equivalent grade point average (GPA) in high school (CSU). There is concern that such a large number of nonproficient students have a B average. The mean high school GPA for regularly admitted first-time freshmen is 3.28 (N = 45,961); 25,208 are proficient in English with a mean high school GPA of 3.37 (n = 25,208; CSU Analytic Studies 2006). Grades help determine California's financial aid distribution, so it is possible that teachers and students are pressured to give or receive Bs so that students will be eligible for these awards. However, no matter what the reason, it is obvious that maintaining a B average in high school does not guarantee proficiency in college-level English and writing courses.

According to the university's Executive Order 665, these nonproficient students must enroll in and pass remedial English reading and writing courses in their first year or they will be disenrolled from the university (Zitzer-Comfort et al. 2005). The Chancellor's office intends to reduce the 46 percent who need these courses to 10 percent by 2007 (Zitzer-Comfort et al. 2005). Although we are far from reaching this goal, the implementation of more rigorous high school preparation that mirrors the kind of work expected in college should help bring us closer.

California Early Assessment Program: What It Is and How It Works

To help high schools identify students who are in need of remediation, CSU has instituted an Early Assessment Program (EAP). The EAP is a collaborative effort among the California State Board of Education (CSBE), the California Department of Education (CDE), and CSU (CSU 2008). These collaborators established the program to provide opportunities for students to measure their readiness for college-level English and mathematics in their junior year of high school and facilitate opportunities for them to improve their skills during their senior year. The EAP goal is for California high school graduates to enter CSU prepared to begin college-level study (CSU 2006a).

All California public school students participate in the state's testing and accountability program. One part of this program is the California Standards Test, English Language Arts (CST/ELA), which all students take at the end of each year. At the end of their junior year, as part of the EAP, students taking the CST/ELA may take an augmented version of the test that includes an additional fifteen multiple-choice items and an essay read by CSU faculty (CSU 2006b). Taking the augmented test is voluntary for the students. If students pass the augmented version, they are not required to take any remediation in reading or writing at CSU as freshmen. In spring 2006, 312,167 high school juniors completed the augmented CST/ELA. Of these students, 15 percent were proficient. In Spring 2007, 16 percent of the 342,348 students tested were college ready in English (CSU 2007d).

If students are not proficient by the end of their eleventh-grade year, they may enroll in the Twelfth Grade Expository Reading and Writing Course (ERWC), which the CSU Expository Reading and Writing Task Force (CSU faculty and K-12 English faculty and curriculum specialists) designed. The task force developed a series of assignments based on expository texts that districts can pilot and adopt. This course, designed to prepare students for college-level English, is aligned with English-Language Arts Content Standards.

The task force was formed in October 2005, when CSU Long Beach (CSULB) faculty and staff, along with literacy coaches from the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), received a Reading Institute for Academic Preparation (RIAP) grant from the CSU Chancellor's Office to train high school teachers who are preparing high school students for the demands of college-level reading and writing. The RIAP grant allowed for the development of a partnership between CSULB and LBUSD.

The RIAP grant supported the training of forty English teachers from LBUSD, which a collaborative team from both CSULB and LBUSD provided. This training was focused on the following areas:

1. using the augmented CST/ELA (voluntary participation) to identify students who would benefit from the Twelfth Grade ERWC

2. identifying students' specific strengths and weaknesses using pre-and posttests such as the Reading and Composing Skills Test, which mimics the English Placement Test and replaces the Collaborative Academic Preparation Initiative; a precursor to the augmented CST/ELA and ERWC professional development program, which shared the goal of reducing the number of students who need remedial English courses at the university level and focused on professional development of reading and writing skills needed to pass CSU's English Placement Test. It did so without the current modules, the Twelfth Grade ERWC, and the large number of professional materials in the current professional development program, such as textbooks and articles)

3. implementing an ERWC that is designed to prepare students to meet the demands of college-level reading and writing

4. preparing teachers to provide leadership for the assessment and instruction of students in their school and across the district

This grant also aimed to improve the expository reading and writing of students in grades nine through twelve by including English teachers across grade levels. The participants received a stipend, which was contingent on (a) implementing research-based diagnostic assessment and instructional practicies; (b) using case studies and other forms of assessment to monitor student improvement in critical reading and writing skills and making necessary modifications to curriculum based on students' needs; (c) expanding their repertoire of teaching strategies to meet college-eligible students' needs and to teach to their students' strengths; and (d) collaborating with school teams and colleagues to plan and implement assessment and instructional strategies, including the assignment templates and course modules designed for the ERWC.

The Twelfth Grade ERWC

The Twelfth Grade ERWC (CSU 2007b) consists of fourteen assignments (modules). Each is a sequence of integrated reading and writing experiences, taking from one to three weeks to teach. Each module contains all the required readings; before-reading, during-reading, and post-reading activities; and reading and writing strategies for students to be successful. Each module aligns with the California English-Language Arts content standards, and each module takes teachers and students through the reading, writing, and thinking processes required of college students.

A template organizes the assignments, which move from prereading activities to reading and postreading activities and then to formal writing activities. Students make text predictions, analyze structures (rhetorical) and content, and use text materials to support their own written arguments. Both student and teacher versions of the assignments are included; the teacher versions have detailed instructions and potential student responses. Student versions can be copied as handouts and distributed in class to facilitate activities.

This is a two-semester program. First-semester modules include: Fast Food, Going for the Look, Rhetoric of the Op-Ed Page, The Value of Life, Racial Profiling, Juvenile Justice, The Last Meow, and Into the Wild. The second-semester modules are Bring a Text to Class, Language and Culture, Left Hand of Darkness, The Politics of Food, Justice: Childhood Love Lessons, and Bullying at School. An assignment template addresses reading rhetorically, with suggested prereading (i.e., Getting Ready to Read, Introducing Key Vocabulary), reading (i.e., Looking Closely at Language, Considering the Structure of the Text), and postreading activities (i.e., Summarizing and Responding, Thinking Critically). Readers may consult the CSU Web site for further information.

Results of the ERWC

Results from a 2004-5 Twelfth Grade ERWC indicate it had a positive impact on student performance in the skills assessed to determine college-level English proficiency (Office of the Chancellor, CSU 2005). Statistically significant statewide results on the augmented CST/ELA test showed higher means for students who experienced this curriculum, suggesting that these materials are robust across a range of schools and instructional settings. ERWC Teachers had a wide range of years of teaching experience, and students from schools in rural, suburban, and urban locations across the state participated. Means showed marked gains for students in urban Los Angeles and rural Lake County, two areas of the state in which student achievement has lagged. Academic performance index (API) rankings varied from three to ten. (Office of the Chancellor, CSU). The API is a yardstick to measure schools. Ranks are by deciles, with 1 being low and 10 being high. Schools receive a statewide rank and a similar schools rank in which they are compared with 100 schools of the same type (i.e., elementary, middle, and high) with respect to type and demographics. (California Department of Education [CDE]2008).

Augmented CST/ELA results are available for different groups of students in LBUSD for 2007 (CSU 2007a). In this district, 14 percent of students scored on the augmented CST/ELA at a level considered ready for college. Of the economically disadvantaged, only 8 percent are ready for college, compared with 23 percent of those from middle- and upper-class families. Some gender differences also occurred, with 19 percent of males and 17 percent of females ready for college. Parents' level of schooling had a noticeable effect: 9 percent of the children of high school graduates are ready, 16 percent of those whose parents had some college (including an associate's degree) are ready, 22 percent of those whose parents are college graduates are ready, and 45 percent of those whose parents have graduate or postgraduate degrees are ready. Results are also available for students with disabilities versus students with no disability and for students with different levels of English language proficiency (CSU 2007a).


This program's success depends on the teachers who participate and act as college advisers to many of their students and curriculum leaders for faculty at their school site. Because of the teachers' importance, program reviewers focus attention on their attitudes and experiences in all aspects of the EAP Analysis of the survey data from the pilot study (Office of the Chancellor, CSU 2005) revealed teachers experienced success with the Twelfth Grade ERWC materials. Interview data showed that teachers found using these materials expanded their repertoire and provided scaffolding for instruction in meaningful ways.

Current study results indicate teachers have many concerns about this program, including how it will affect them (Knudson 2007). Most of them teach a number of classes, only one of which is the Twelfth Grade ERWC. Not only are they involved in accelerating student proficiency to meet college standards, but most are also responsible for ensuring that all students reach proficiency levels to graduate from high school. Thus, they must meet many standards and requirements and be knowledgeable about programs that extend beyond the high school. Whatever we can learn about the teachers' experiences outside the high school can then be used to make a stronger, more efficient and effective program and should enhance teacher retention in the program as well as teacher recruitment for future programs (Knudson et al. 2007).

No Child Left Behind mandates keep public attention focused on student achievement. Much energy and resources have been directed at helping all students leave high school with at least a basic skill level. To ensure that is the case, California requires that students pass the California High School Exit Examination. However, for students who want to continue their education at a four-year college, a basic level of proficiency is not enough. Rather, these students must be at proficient or advanced levels. Goals for both the EAP and the RIAP include assisting students in reaching proficient or advanced skill levels. The costs--to the individual, their families, and the public--of continuing to graduate high school students who are unprepared for college are too high for the state to ignore. Information about this model program is available on the CSU Web site. The program plans to continue to help students and their families transition as seamlessly as possible from high school to the four-year college. This is a work in progress, but one well worth the work.

Other Ways to Meet the English Placement Test Requirement

Students do have options other than the ERWC available to them. They may meet the CSU proficiency requirement by receiving a grade of C or better in a qualifying English transfer course at a community college. All CSU campuses use the English Placement Test, but each California community college has its own test preparation and advising. However, community colleges do provide the opportunity for students to take an English course that meets the English Placement Test requirement the summer before freshman year. In articulation agreements, each community college campus provided the course names and numbers that meet the CSU requirement.

Students may also meet the English Placement Test requirement with a score of 550 or more on the SAT verbal section of the SAT1 Reasoning Test, 680 or more on the SAT II Writing Test, 24 or more on the enhanced ACT English Test, or a 3 or more on the Advanced Placement Language and Composition or Literature and Composition Examination (CSU Mentor 2008). Most students, however, still benefit from the types of expository reading and writing assignments used in the ERWC. The ERWC modules resemble college-level reading and writing courses across the disciplines more so than traditional high school English courses.

What Does This Mean for Teachers and Administrators in Other States?

There are several steps involved in implementing the CSU EAP model in other states. First, teachers and administrators must identify the test(s) given at state institutions to determine whether students meet proficiency requirements or whether they will need to take remedial courses during their freshman year. Second, the closer the proficiency examinations are to CSU's exam, the easier it will be to use the CSU model. Third, even if a state's exams are different from California's, the Twelfth Grade ERWC should still be useful to the students because it was developed by CSU English faculty in conjunction with high school teachers and curriculum specialists and represents accepted standards for college-level work. CSU's Web site provides much of the information under the EAP link. The California Department of Education Web site also provides information regarding the program.

Most schools, classrooms, and students benefit from using part of or the entire model program. We suggest beginning with a pretest as much like your state's higher education institutions' test(s) as possible. State universities may have sample tests available online, often identified as English Placement Test. Identify the rubric used by the university; this information is also often available online. Apply the rubric to the students' written work. If you have state standards tests at each grade level, find out what grade-level proficiency your state colleges and universities require. Be certain your curriculum includes or emphasizes these standards and that students have multiple opportunities to write using similar writing prompts and rubrics so they begin to incorporate these qualities into their writing throughout the year.

Do use the online EAP features, namely the teachers' guides to reading and writing rhetorically. Students' guides are also available online from the CSU Chancellor's office Web site. These are the basic requirements and guidelines of college-level writing in California.

Teachers responsible for staff development may want to do all of the above as well as provide teacher training--especially for eleventh-and twelfth-grade teachers--that includes speakers, opportunities for teachers at the same school to discuss strategies and techniques, opportunities for teachers at different schools to work together on planning units, discussion of reading and writing texts supplied to the participants, and in-service training on components of reading and writing rhetorically such as writing instruction, vocabulary development, and writing examination assistance. Teacher training for grades nine to twelve is important because the focus for college preparation needs to be expository reading and writing and this is frequently not the primary concern of high school English courses, which typically teach literature.

Finally, because community colleges are also involved in placement testing and advisement, working with them to integrate developmental English, language arts, and math instruction into the high school curriculum for those students who need help is integral to improving students' readiness for college-level work. Community colleges play a vital role in K-16 partnerships and should be included as experts in developmental curriculum and instruction.


A grant from the Office of the Chancellor, California State University supported this study.


The California Department of Education (CDE). 2008. API description. (accessed March 30, 2008).

The California State University. 2006a. Early assessment program. (accessed October 19, 2006).

--. 2006b. Early assessment program augmentation of STAR standards. (accessed October 23, 2006).

--. 2007a. EAP 2007 test results. viewreport.asp (accessed March 30, 2008).

--. 2007b. Expository reading and writing course. (accessed September 19, 2006).

--. 2007c. Focus on English. (accessed October 4, 2007).

-- .2007d. 2007 early assessment program: More high school juniors get "early signal" about college readiness. (accessed March 30, 2008).

-- .2008. About the early assessment program. (accessed October 18, 2005).

The California State University Analytic Studies. 2006. Fall 2006 final regularly admitted first-time freshmen proficiency systemwide. (accessed October 4, 2007).

The California State University Public Affairs. 2007. 2007 early assessment program: More high school juniors get "early signal" about college readiness. (accessed October 4, 2007).

CSU Mentor. 2008. English proficiency for CSU first-time freshmen. (accessed March 30, 2008).

The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2007. Cal state's need for freshman remediation continues unabated, report says. (accessed October 4, 2007).

Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates for California Community Colleges. 2002. Academic literacy: A statement of competencies expected of students entering California's public colleges and universities. Sacramento: Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates for California Community Colleges. ERIC ED469982.

Knudson, R. E. 2007. Bridging the gap: Beyond basic to proficient in reading and Writing-A study of the California State University Early Assessment Program. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Reading Association, Toronto.

Knudson, R. E., C. Zitzer-Comfort, M. Quirk, and P. Alexander. 2007. The effects of the Reading Institute for Academic Preparation (RIAP) on collaborating high school teachers. Report presented at the RIAP Conference, Long Beach.

Office of the Chancellor, California State University 2005. Pilot study evaluation of the Early Assessment Program's professional development in English 2004-2005. Long Beach, CA: Academic Affairs.

Zitzer-Comfort, C., P. Alexander, R. E. Knudson, and L. Nanasy. 2005. Reading Institute for Academic Preparation Proposal. Long Beach: The California State University.

Ruth E. Knudson, PhD, is a professor of teacher education at California State University, Long Beach. Carol Zitzer-Comfort, PhD, is an assistant professor of English and liberal studies at California State University, Long Beach. Matthew Quirk, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in reading education. Pia Alexander, MA, is an instructor in the secondary education program at California State University, Long Beach and is the language arts curriculum leader, grades 9-12, in the Long Beach Unified School District.

Source Citation:Knudson, Ruth E., Carol Zitzer-Comfort, Matthew Quirk, and Pia Alexander. "The California State University early Assessment Program.(Report)." The Clearing House 81.5 (May-June 2008): 227(5). General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 5 Oct. 2009

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