Inconsistent Definitions of College Readiness

Transformative Changes in College Readiness throughout California's Public Education Systems

Three of the four public systems of education in California have implemented massive changes recently in terms of college readiness. For the CDE, a new accountability measure was added to the CA Dashboard called the College and Career Indicator. This is the first time the state has applied an accountability measure to high schools that is designed to measure students’ preparation after graduation. The CSU and CCC systems have also made a major change. Both systems implemented new policies removing traditional placement tests and replacing them with multiple measures for placement in college-level math and English courses. Each sector created a set of metrics to assess whether a student is ready for college and rolled the new measures out over the last two years. 

This would be a good time to mention that the term “college ready” has become taboo. Before the changes took place, the term “college ready” was ubiquitous. In fact, the CSU’s EAP categorized students as “Ready for College,” “Conditionally Ready,” or “Not Ready” for the previous 15 years or so. With the new multiple measures, students are told that they are all ready for college but most are required to take additional support classes. If Student A is required to take additional support courses/units that Student B is not required to take, I am still referring to that as unprepared. Our goal at College Bridge is that college-bound students graduate from college prepared for college-level coursework without the need for additional support classes/units. Therefore, we are sticking with the terms “unprepared” and “college ready” since this is the focus of our work. That said, I will proceed with the blog topic at hand.

As we worked with sites on the new measures, we found that there are quite a few differences in the way each sector measures readiness. This post will include an introduction to the measures for each sector, our work aligning the metrics for consumption, and each sector’s relevant documents available for view and download.  

Aligning the Metrics for College Readiness

The table below is our best effort to date to simplify and the metrics used by the CDE, CCC, and/or CSU in their measure of college readiness. A check mark indicates that the metric is used by that sector; when a check mark is used by two sectors they share the same definition in their readiness calculation. For example, completing the set of A-G courses has a common definition for both the CDE and CSU. When an asterisk is used, that denotes that the sector uses that metric but another sector uses it differently. For example, a student may pass two AP exams such as AP Government and AP Psychology which calculates as “college ready” for the CDE. For the CSU, AP exams only count for readiness in their respective subject area and only one exam is needed. So AP exam scores may tell a student he/she is college ready in the CDE calculation, but when they get to college they may find themselves requiring extra support courses in math or English.

Readiness Metric
Career & Technical Education (CTE) Pathway
Advanced Placement (AP)
International Baccelaureate (IB)
College Credit
A-G Completion
State Seal of Biliteracy
Leadership Military Science
College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
HS Courses and Grades
Sectors use this metric differently in readiness definition

EO1110 & AB705: Policies Transforming the Landscape of Placement in College-Level Courses at the CSU and CCC, respectively

Both the CSU and CCC systems have been undergoing massive transformations in their assessment and placement policies for mathematics. These conversions have been in the works for years with groups of faculty, administrators, and researchers piloting programs, conducting evaluations, and sharing challenges and best practices.

In November 2017, CSU’s Chancellor signed Executive Order (EO) 1110, Assessment of Academic Preparation and Placement in First-Year General Education Written Communication and Mathematics/Quantitative Reasoning Courses1. Two major policy changes of this EO that took effect in the fall of 2018 are: 1) eliminating the CSU Math Placement Test (ELM) in lieu of multiple measures, and 2) eliminating pre-requisite remedial courses in lieu of co-requisite support courses.

Following suit, CCC’s Chancellor signed AB7052 which took effect on January 1, 2018. The bill states that, “The goal of this act is to ensure that students are not placed into remedial courses that may delay or deter their educational progress unless evidence suggests they are highly unlikely to succeed in the college-level course.” Much like EO1110, AB705 calls for multiple measures and co-requisite support classes. The following two sections provide background and details of the systemic changes at the CSU and CCC.

CSU’s Multiple Measures of College Readiness

There are three types of metrics used by the CSU for course placement: (1) standardized tests, (2) Grade Point Average (GPA), and (3) high school and college coursework.  The standardized tests currently used include CAASPP/EAP (see About the Acronyms), ACT, SAT, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and College Level Examination Program (CLEP). 

About the Acronyms

Educators across the state use three acronyms interchangeably: SBAC, CAASPP, and EAP. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is the public agency that creates the online Common Core State Standards – Math (CCSS-M) assessment for grades 3-8 and 11 used in California’s public schools. The 11th grade test is the only one that determines college readiness. The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) system is the state’s comprehensive accountability measure; one of its components that applies to most students is the SBAC assessments. Finally, the Early Assessment Program (EAP) is one of the multiple measures the CSU uses to gauge 11th graders college readiness. The CAASPP score and EAP score are the same metric.

GPAs include overall high school as well as math GPA. High school coursework must includes all math courses beginning with Algebra 1/Integrated Math 1, including these courses when they are taken in middle school. For college courses, the student must earn a grade of C- or better in a college-level course satisfying the B4 (math/quantitative reasoning) requirement. 

 Using these quantitative multiple measures, the CSU developed a system resulting in four possible outcomes: (1) fulfilled college General Education (GE) requirement, (2) enroll in GE math course, (3) enroll GE math course with extra support units required, or (4) enroll in the Early Start Program prior to a GE math course with support. The CSU’s ESP was developed to support students in becoming college math ready during the summer before the fall term of their first year of college. 

The CSU’s Math Placement document is available for viewing or download below:

CCC’s Multiple Measures of College Readiness

Similar to the CSU, the CCC system developed a system that distinguishes if a student is ready to enroll in a college level math course or a college level math class with support. While there are no official system wide placement category titles, the working vernacular used across the state is “transfer level” and “transfer level with support.” Transfer level indicates that the course is transferable to a UC or CSU campus and will count towards the completion of a bachelor’s degree.

Each CCC campus has the flexibility to roll out this new placement process in the first years of implementation. In a July 2018 memo, the CCC Chancellor’s Office provided guidance for campuses when using high school GPA as a placement criterion. At this time, CCCs use weighted overall high school GPA that student self-report on their application for admission.

An excerpt of the Chancellor’s memo is available for viewing or download to the right.

CDE College and Career Indicator

In 2017, the CDE rolled out a new accountability measure for high schools, the College and Career Indicator (CCI). This indicator differs from the CSU and CCC readiness metrics in one important way: the CCI is a measure for College and Career Readiness in general whereas the CSU and CCC measures are for the specific purpose of placement in college courses. 

The CCI places students in three categories: (1) Prepared, (2) Approaching Prepared, and (3) Not Prepared. A word of caution: Although the CSU changed their categories for the EAP with the rollout of EO 1110, the CDE categories are reminiscent of the previous EAP designations: College Ready, Conditionally Ready, and Not Ready. The old EAP posters with these designations remain posted in high school classrooms and guidance offices throughout the state and may cause confusion with the new CDE categories.

The CDE’s document detailing the CCI’s is available for viewing and download to the right.