Friends of California GEAR UP: This is the final edition of our newsletter as we celebrate the end of the 2011-2017 grant cycle. Across the country, graduation ceremonies mark accomplishment and success – for students and the whole school community. As another school year ends, we join our school leadership teams, families and friends in extending CONGRATULATIONS to the class of 2017!
Since 1999, the GEAR UP network has continued to thrive. We have expanded our reach to share experiences, resources, lessons learned and success stories with the growing GEAR UP community. Along with many other States, we have made application for a new grant that would continue this important work from 2017-2024 with announcements anticipated by Fall 2017. The State grant will remain focused on ALL students and the development and sustainability of a college-going-culture.
In this issue, we share good news about exciting activities in school communities throughout California. The stories, profiles and updates reflect the breadth of our work in collaboration with our program partners for schools, students, staff and families.
This year has been especially challenging for me as I will retire in June. I have served as the Director of the GEAR UP program since 2001 and as an employee of the University of California since 1991. It has been a wonderful experience, serving alongside those dedicated to social justice and equal access to high quality education for ALL students. The work of GEAR UP in California through the State grant and 19 GEAR UP partnership projects will continue to grow strong, to mobilize and engage whole school communities and to ensure success for our youth.
It has been a great pleasure to know and work with the GEAR UP family and I will always remain committed to “Academic Excellence and College Access for ALL Students”. There is still much to be done…
(Editor’s note: The announcement that Education Trust-West and a number of civil rights and community organizations were founding a data hub in San Bernardino County, struck me as an important opportunity to increase the capacity for community voice in the California Local Control Funding Formula process. Here, Ryan Smith, the organization’s executive director, expands on the value of getting actionable information to the people.)
By Ryan Smith
Recently, during a policy briefing in the Central Valley, a community leader asked if she could comment by telling a story. She spoke of a small cadre of mapmakers from up north that would spend time making maps for communities with no input from the people who lived there. Townspeople would openly complain: the map didn’t reflect the ground they knew—they had missed rivers, peaks, and other valuable landmarks in the community. The mapmakers came back and told them “Our maps are right, it’s your ground that’s wrong.”
Point taken. Today, well-intentioned education policies still feel as if they’re being done to and not with communities. Laws that start off as puddles in Sacramento can come down like waves to school communities, particularly communities of color.
LCFF Provides Unique Opportunity
The time is ripe to invest in bottom-up policymaking. California’s move to the Local Control Funding Formula and the current redesign of our state accountability system provide a unique opportunity to accelerate meaningful engagement of educators, students, parents and community members.
Furthermore, the recently-passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires robust information be publicly available and disaggregated by subgroups. ESSA also calls for college enrollment data and any other available data deemed helpful to parents to be included on school report cards. This information can shine a brighter light on student outcomes and empower families in their education decision-making.
However, ESSA is a vehicle for empowerment—but it doesn’t drive itself. For local control to move past lip service, stakeholders must fully understand complex data, research, budgets, and policy and use this knowledge to make informed decisions. Without an intentional focus and resources dedicated to data readiness, these efforts to meaningfully engage communities feel more like empty promises.
Bring Data To The People
Building community understanding of data utilization can start to bridge the gap. When data are effectively understood and used locally, there are long-term benefits for transparency, efficiency, system performance, and student outcomes. Although we’ve made progress making education data readily available, we’ve never done a decent job of helping education stakeholders actively use data to inform decision-making. Stakeholders are too often forced to make decisions based on anecdotes, because they do not have access to high-quality, accessible information.
It’s time to finally bring data to the people.
This means the state must develop data systems that are cultivated with consideration for the community members who need this information. California can’t afford to simply warehouse data in confusing and cumbersome ways. Even as the use of technology increases, a vast digital divide exists in low-income communities and communities of color. We have to meet communities where they are through the use of tools designed to develop community members’ awareness of how this information connects to their daily experiences.
The right data matter as well. When it comes to school and district performance, we must resist the urge to artlessly data dump and call it a day. Transparency is not providing teachers a one hundred page data binder or creating data dashboards that drown parents in fifty indicators of success. The state has an obligation to provide the right, digestible data including summary measures that don’t mask how students achieve. Let’s stay away from the dark ages when California’s accountability system painted a pretty picture that covered up distressing disparities in schools and districts failing our most forgotten students.
Invest in Community-Based Expertise
We must also partner with organizations that have a track record of authentically partnering with community members. Groups like Californians for Justice, P.I.C.O., the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and Californians Together work directly with students, parents, and community members to comprehend how to use data to hold schools accountable for success. We’ve spent $40 million to get County Offices of Education up to speed on supporting LCFF. Similarly, let’s invest in the groups with this type of community-based expertise rather than recreating the wheel.
We have to equip those on the frontline with more tools. Recently Ed Trust-West partnered with a number of advocacy and education organizations in San Bernardino to open a community-based data and research hub that will serve as a catalyst to build knowledge around budgets, data, and policy at the local level. Our first step is facilitating data equity walks, a program designed to understand the disparities in the data we see in low-income communities and communities of color.
Let’s work toward democratizing data. Measuring and understanding success in education is critical to all stakeholders. Making sense of education information for the average citizen is big data’s last frontier. It’s time for policymakers to embrace the challenge and make sure that a system showing data of the people is also for the people. The mapmakers who visited the Central Valley weren’t wrong to make maps—they just started and ended with their own view of the world. Whether data comes in the form of a map or a pie chart, ignoring the local geography gets us nowhere.
Officials at California’s four-year public universities are reaching out to an estimated 10,000 undergraduate students who might qualify for a special loan aimed at reducing their tuition — a program that further distinguishes the state as a national trendsetter in providing services to unauthorized immigrants.
The California DREAM low-interest loans are designated for unauthorized immigrant students enrolled at University of California or California State University campuses. The program was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, but funding didn’t become available until now.
It’s the latest in a series of measures that the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Brown have approved in their push to help unauthorized immigrants integrate into mainstream society.
They have ushered through legislation that enables this population of Californians to obtain driver licenses, eliminates the word “alien” when describing unauthorized immigrants in the state labor code and expands access to health care for children of such parents.
Critics said these actions only spur more illegal immigration, hurt law-abiding taxpayers and reward individuals who should not be granted any privileges because they have violated this country’s rules.
The California DREAM loan program’s initial $7 million allotment — $5 million for the UC and $2 million for CSU — will be distributed to eligible applicants in the following weeks. The state provided half of the sum and the two university systems covered the other half. The loans are for the 2015-16 academic year, and they’re retroactive to last fall.
The UC system will divide the $5 million among its nine undergraduate campuses, with the amount for each school based on the number of qualified students there, UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said.
She estimates that UC San Diego has about 200 unauthorized immigrant students.
The Cal State system will take a similar approach with its campuses, which include San Diego State University and Cal State San Marcos. About 250 students at Cal State San Marcos are eligible for the loan, according to a spokeswoman for the school.
Each qualified student can borrow up to $4,000 for this academic year at an interest rate of 4.29 percent. Once they graduate, borrowers must begin repaying their loan after a six-month grace period.
Future funding is contingent on money being available from the state budget, according to school administrators.
Supporters of the loan program said it could erase significant financial barriers for unauthorized immigrant students, who cannot receive federal grants or federally subsidized loans.
“It helps alleviate the burden for undocumented students, many of whom are often forced to take quarters/semesters off or take on outside jobs to offset the cost of tuition,” Doan said.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara, creator of the California DREAM loan program through Senate Bill 1210, said: “I’m very proud of the fact that California has always led when it comes to providing much-needed resources for our undocumented student population — understanding that they are here, that this is their home and that many of them were brought here not out of their own volition.”
Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has helped advance immigration-related legislation for several years, including passage of Assembly Bill 540. That law allows non-resident college students who meet specific requirements, including unauthorized immigrants, to pay in-state tuition and fees instead of the far-higher expenses for out-of-state students.
Students who fall within the parameters of AB 540 are eligible for the California DREAM loan program.
Opponents of the program said it wrongfully rewards people who shouldn’t be in the United States in the first place.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C., said the program’s funding should instead be used to help law-abiding families in financial need.
“There are a lot of people in California who are struggling. Their kids want a good education. Even with the availability of federal loans, it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of these many families,” he said.
Robin Hvidston, executive director of the Claremont-based group We the People Rising, said public money is being abused.
“These taxpayer-funded loans should be available to veterans who have served this nation. Why not aim this program to specifically help American foster care children? This is discrimination against U.S. citizens who are not able to partake in the program,” Hvidston said.
At least 18 states have policies that permit unauthorized immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates, according to an October report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sixteen of those states, including California, have done so through legislation.
In addition, California is one of five states that allow such students to receive state grants for higher education, the legislatures group said.
It’s unclear whether any other state besides California has a higher-education loan program for unauthorized immigrants.
Zenén Jaimes Pérez, policy analyst for United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant youth-led organization, said California has set a national precedent in establishing rights for unauthorized immigrants.
“When I travel to other states, a lot of folks are wondering, ‘How do we get to where California is?’” he said.
The movement supporting “DREAMers,” as youths living in the U.S. illegally are often called, took off more than a decade ago and has grown to become a focal point of the immigration debate.
They’re currently part of the spotlight on a case involving the U.S. Supreme Court, which is preparing to review an injunction blocking President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration. That measure would provide a temporary waiver from deportation for up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants and expand a program that granted various rights to “DREAMers.”
In December President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a bipartisan bill that for the first time in 14 years provides a new framework and requirements for states as they develop their own systems to hold schools and districts responsible for student learning and growth. California is in the midst of redesigning the way we hold schools and districts accountable and policymakers have some important decisions to make:
Will we measure student progress through an aspirational accountability system or will we compare schools to a state average?
Will our state system combine multiple measures in a way that prioritizes student achievement, or will we have so many measures that it’s tough to easily see if students are learning?
Will we have a clear, parent-friendly way to see how schools are doing that also helps policymakers direct support to fix schools that are failing groups of students?
Our latest Equity Alert digs deeper into these questions and examines how California can build a single, stronger accountability system that supports and protects vulnerable students. Read the Alert to learn more about what’s at stake for California’s students of color and low-income students as the state makes these crucial decisions.
High school senior Cynthia Chavez really wanted to study psychology at Cal State Los Angeles next fall. But the student from Jefferson High in Los Angeles instead applied for admission as an English major.
That’s because her chances of winning a spot on campus are much greater in English than in psychology, one of 10 programs at the campus that now have far more qualified applicants than spaces available.
“The most important thing for me right now is to just get admitted to the school. I’ll worry about switching majors after that,” she said. “It’s really sad that this is the new reality for admissions. Just being willing and able to go to college is no longer enough.”
By last month’s application deadline, more than 215,000 high school seniors in California, an expected record high, filed more than 550,000 applications for fall 2016 admission to one or more of the California State University’s 23 campuses. Growing numbers are finding that they will be rejected for campuses or majors where the demand exceeds the supply.
The increasing difficulties students face in not only gaining entry to some CSU campuses but also to majors of their choice is casting a shadow on the principle goal of many of the education reforms underway in California, including the Common Core standards, which lists as a primary objective ensuring that more students leave high school prepared for college and careers. Educators and advocates alike worry a growing number of students will leave high school ready for college – only to find their path to a degree blocked by forces beyond their control.
“More Californians are prepared for college and want to go, yet our public universities cannot accommodate all of the eligible students and the state has failed to invest the resources necessary to expand college access to keep pace with demand,” asserted a recent report by the Campaign for College Opportunity, an L.A.-based advocacy organization.
On average, prospective students apply to two campuses – typically those in close proximity to where they live. That’s not only because they may save money by living with their parents, but also because they get preference over students from other parts of the state, and don’t have to have as high a GPA and SAT or ACT score as those applying from farther away.
Last year, about 33,000 freshmen applicants, or about 15 percent of all applicants, were rejected by each campus they applied to. A decade earlier, just 11,500 freshman applicants, or about 8 percent of all who applied, were denied admission.
Historically, some CSU campuses – including Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and San Diego State – and some majors such as nursing have always been harder to get into. Now the bar for admission is being raised at a growing number of campuses – along with the requirements to get into a major of a student’s choice.
Today, Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State, Cal State Long Beach, San Diego State, San Jose State and San Luis Obispo are entirely at capacity across all majors they offer, while an additional eight universities have five or more majors with more applicants than they can accommodate, according to CSU figures.
In CSU parlance, these campuses and majors are now declared “impacted.”
When an entire campus is called “impacted” it means that it has reached or surpassed existing enrollment capacity in terms of its instructional resources and physical size. A major is “impacted” when the number of applicants who met the system’s minimum admissions criteria exceeds the number of available spaces in that major.
“One of our primary missions is in danger,” said Eric Forbes, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor for student academic services. “We’re trying to squeeze as many students as possible through the neck of the bottle.”
“CSU has always been about access. ‘Impaction’ no longer allows that,” said Nancy Dority, assistant vice president of enrollment at Cal State Fullerton.
At Cal State Fullerton, all majors are “impacted.” At San Francisco State, 20 of 38 majors, from biology and chemistry to English and sociology, have been declared “impacted.” Sonoma State has “impacted” 11 of its 24 majors, and Cal Poly Pomona has “impacted” 13 of 21 majors.
The increased demand has forced campuses to become more selective in the admissions process. Many now require GPAs of 3.0 to 3.5 for students applying to popular programs including nursing, biology, computer science, engineering and business administration.
A decade ago, with some exceptions, virtually every eligible student could secure admission at every campus he or she applied to.
Several years of steep budget cuts, which have forced campuses to cut faculty, freeze enrollment and slash services, coupled with an unprecedented 64 percent gain since 2000 in the number of college-ready high school graduates, threatens part of the system’s core mission. The CSU now struggles to provide access to a high-quality education to all students who meet the system’s requirements for admission.
Although some new and ongoing initiatives aim to help boost the system’s overall enrollment, a solution that could again guarantee access to all campuses to qualified students remains elusive.
MORE STUDENTS, LESS FUNDING
CSU is struggling to cope with a series of budgetary and demographic pressures that is having an impact on its ability to admit qualified students.
Between 2008 and 2012, lawmakers cut a cumulative total of about $1 billion from the system, amounting to a loss of about one-third of the system’s state revenue.
During the same time period, California also faced a major increase in college-ready high school graduates, those who completed with a grade of C or higher the A-G sequence, the 15 high school courses in math, English, science and other core subjects students must take to be eligible for admission to CSU.
Educators attribute the increase to the stronger focus of K-12 schools on preparing a wider range of students for college and careers, and the overall student population growth in California.
But through much of this period the number of students admitted to CSU hardly increased.
In fall 2006, 417,112 in-state students were enrolled in CSU campuses. By fall 2012, the system grew in-state enrollment by just 972 students, an increase of less than 1 percent.
The CSU has historically had a mandate to provide access to the top one-third of California’s graduating high school students under the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education. CSU officials said that despite the growing number of impacted campuses and majors, some universities can still accommodate nearly all eligible students who apply.
Cal State Bakersfield, Cal State East Bay, Cal State Stanislaus, Cal State Monterey Bay and Cal State Dominguez Hills have room for every qualified applicant in almost every major.
But with so many other campuses being declared “impacted,” tens of thousands of eligible students are no longer guaranteed admission to the campus of their choice, including, sometimes, the school closest to their home.
“Access is eroding,” said Nancy Dority, assistant vice president of enrollment at Cal State Fullerton. “CSU has always been about access. ‘Impaction’ no longer allows that.”
Dority added, “There are thousands of students we deny each year. These are good students who would do fine here. But we have no space for them.”
At Sacramento State, eight majors are currently “impacted,” up from three in 2009. School officials are considering designating all majors as “impacted” as the campus struggles with a growing number of students it accepts with undeclared majors, or those who gain admission into the campus and later hope to enroll in “impacted” majors as space becomes available.
Edward Lascher, professor of public policy and administration at the university, wrote a report earlier this year for university leaders that outlined how demand had grown over the past decade, and how it affected the school’s long-term goals.
He concluded that limiting the number of students in some majors could have both positive and negative outcomes.
“On the positive side, ‘impaction’ might improve (student) progress to (getting a) degree for students within impacted majors by making it easier to get classes, allowing faculty and staff to spend more time with students, etc.,” he said.
“On the negative side, students who fail to make it into ‘impacted’ majors may ‘hang out’ in related majors, hoping to eventually get into their first choice discipline while not making progress in another field… (These students) might get discouraged and leave school or reduce their unit load,” Lascher said.
Dority said that one positive effect of the more stringent admissions is that admitted students are generally better prepared to succeed.
“We now have much better (prepared) students coming in,” she said. “They’re more likely to complete their coursework on time and are less likely to drop out.”
But that also has to be weighed against the CSU mission to provide an education to students with a broad range of qualifications, not just those who are most qualified.
STUDENT LOOKING AT DIFFERENT OPTIONS
Grace Zhong, a sophomore at Cal State Los Angeles, had hoped to enroll in the university’s nursing program when she began applying for admission two years ago. But after talking with career counselors, she determined her odds of getting accepted would be very low. Instead, she applied as a health science major, a program that’s not “impacted” at the campus. She now plans on becoming a medical technician.
“My mom and aunts are all nurses,” Zhong said. “I wanted to follow in their footsteps. But the nursing programs are so tough to get into.”
Nearly three-quarters of high school seniors turned away from CSU enroll in community colleges, according to estimates. The rest will either attend private schools, out-of-state colleges, for-profit universities, or enter the job market.
Carlos Ramirez, a senior at Norwalk High, applied to nearby Cal State Long Beach, but he worries he won’t be accepted because he’s competing with almost 58,000 other applicants. (Eventually, about one-third will be admitted.) He also applied to Fresno State and Cal State San Bernardino, but said he likely could not afford moving away from home. So he’ll probably enroll at Long Beach City College if he doesn’t get into Cal State Long Beach.
Other “impacted” CSUs, including Cal State Fullerton, San Diego State and Sacramento State, have similar partnerships with community colleges in their enrollment areas aimed at boosting admission rates for local students who have demonstrated they can succeed in college.
“Cal State Long Beach remains my first-choice school,” said Ramirez, who plans to major in business administration. “So if I end up there in a couple years, then I’d still be happy with that.”
Continuing improvements to the state economy could mean additional funding in coming years to help further boost enrollment and restore services, staffing and programs cut over the past decade, officials said.
Some lawmakers have also proposed building new campuses to help with the increased demand. Stockton and Chula Vista have been floated as possible locations for new CSUs. But given the billions of dollars it would cost, and the political hurdles the plan would face, construction of new campuses, or large-scale expansions of existing ones, isn’t something CSU officials can count on in the foreseeable future.
Some initiatives already underway to increase access include: increasing the number of online courses, currently at 10 percent of all course offerings, to reduce the physical capacity; and providing more support to help more students complete degrees in four years rather than the five to six years it takes a large number of students.
Additionally, CSU is planning to have “impacted” campuses institute year-round academic schedules that would allow for more flexible scheduling for students and more efficient use of facilities that are unused for months during the summer break.
Forbes said CSU officials are also working on improving partnerships with high schools statewide to ensure students begin preparing for college more effectively. They include programs to encourage more students to enroll in Advanced Placement courses where they can earn college credits and programs to help students avoid remediation in math and English. These would reduce the number of students needing CSU remedial and general education classes, thus freeing up resources to help admit more students.
The goal for these initiatives is to increase CSU admissions. They would require additional funding to hire new faculty, build new curriculum and create additional support programs and services, Forbes said.
CSU’s Board of Trustees earlier this month approved a plan to ask the state for an additional $102 million in funding to help pay for initiatives to increase access. Additionally, trustees said tuition increases that are “modest and predictable” might also be necessary to pay for increased services.
“The real solution is to look at all these options,” Forbes said. “We can’t rely on applications someday starting to decline. That’s not going to happen.”
The rankings are based on three key factors — share of students receiving Pell grants, those students’ graduation rates and the annual cost of tuition, fees and housing combined for low- and middle-income students.
While Leonhardt reports that, based on the index, economic diversity at the nation’s top colleges and university has stagnated, some campuses are making progress.
The University of California schools are seeing success, he argues, because of their “aggressive” push to keep tuition affordable for low-income, first-generation students and to prioritize the community-college transfer pipeline.
This achievement is at risk, however, because state funding stagnation — and threats of further cuts — have made for a lower number of in-state students being enrolled at the state’s public universities when compared with wealthier out-of-state and international students, who pay higher tuition.
The feature includes video interviews with students who participate in LEDA, a national program that helps low-income students succeed in college, and who spoke to the challenges they’ve encountered while pursuing their education.
ScholarShare, California’s 529 college savings plan, is celebrating National College Savings Month this September with a College Savings Pledge. Starting Tuesday, Sept. 1 through Friday, Sept. 25, Californians who take the pledge will be entered for the chance to win one of 20 ScholarShare 529 accounts, each in the amount of $500, for their child as well as a matching $500 prize for their child’s classroom. The pledge is aimed at encouraging young children to aspire to go to college. For more details about this special promotion, including the Official Rules, visitwww.CollegeSavingsPledge.com.
Recently ranked second among all direct-sold 529 plans for three-year performance by www.SavingForCollege.com, ScholarShare is California’s state-sponsored 529 college savings plan, offering low fees, tax advantages, a variety of investment choices, no annual account maintenance fees, and flexible savings options to meet your unique savings needs. With a low initial contribution amount of $25, ScholarShare makes it easy for anyone to get started.
Please join ScholarShare in spreading the word about taking a pledge to encourage higher education and college savings during the month of September for National College Savings Month. To learn more about ScholarShare, contact us toll-free at 1-800-544-5248 or visit www.ScholarShare.com.
Even before new state test scores are released this week, one thing is already clear: Results will be lower than in years past. Probably much lower.
In other words, a much smaller percentage of students will be regarded as academically proficient for their grade level.
California on Wednesday rejoins the national debate over standardized testing, including what students should learn and how teachers and schools should be held accountable.
State by state, the results of these tests, or similar ones, have shown a clear, downward pattern.
Previous standardized tests were based on California’s learning goals for each grade. Now, the test is gauging students’ knowledge against new learning standards, called the Common Core, which has been adopted by 42 states.
Critics of public schools call the test results evidence of a failing system. Critics of testing say the low scores are causing unnecessary anxiety and advise against attaching too much importance to them. Some also express concern about using results as grounds to dismiss teachers, while others applaud that possibility.
But with the expectation of low scores comes another message from most officials: Don’t panic.
“No one should be discouraged by the scores,” state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement. “They can help guide discussions among parents and teachers and help schools adjust instruction to meet student needs.”
Others cautioned the same: “Previous tests should not be compared to this test,” said Luci Willits, deputy director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the group overseeing the test, which also is being given in other states. “These are totally different tests and totally different standards.”
The new results should be considered a baseline for student achievement, said Willits, whose group is now headquartered at UCLA.
The test itself is more difficult, and how the test is scored makes it more difficult for students to be considered academically proficient. Students by the end of high school must now show they are prepared for college-level work, a higher bar than under the old test.
A governing board for the test set four levels of achievement, and then let each state decide how to identify them. In California, the four levels are: standard exceeded, standard met, standard nearly met or standard not met.
“Standard exceeded” can be roughly compared to the former rating of “advanced.” “Standard met” is similar to the former “proficient.”
The test also has progressed beyond a simple multiple choice format to include written responses of various lengths. Students are given more complex questions, requiring deeper thinking about a theme in literature, for example, or about the concepts of algebra or geometry, say experts who laud the new approach.
“This is a better way of assessing students,” said Cynthia Lim, head of data and accountability for L.A. Unified School District. “It shows a lot of promise. This has great potential for instruction because the tests are more tailored to individual students.”
The performance estimates are based on the outcome of field tests in 21 states two years ago.
As in other states, there has been intense disagreement in California over standardized tests and how they should be used. But so far, Common Core and the new tests have proved less controversial in this state than elsewhere, where opponents have emerged from the left and right, as well as among parents and other members of the public.
Parents face a test of their own: making sense of a new flood of data, jargon and acronyms.
The new test is called the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP.
English and math tests were administered last spring to students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11. They were given on desktop computers, tablets and laptops.
The old testing system is still being used for science exams given in grades 5, 8 and 10.
California is among a group of states that joined to create a test, under the name Smarter Balanced. As many as 22 states took part, but five have dropped out. Even so, for the first time, it will be possible to make a direct comparison between the scores in participating states.
Other states are part of another group using a different test and others are opting for different exams, with or without the Common Core learning standards.
The Smarter Balanced test was developed with assistance from a $185-million federal grant.
What California parents won’t see is the familiar Academic Performance Index for each school. The index, which was based solely on test scores, profoundly influenced public perception of individual schools and affected whether they received plaudits or penalties. State lawmakers and experts still are debating what to include in a new index.
In addition, California districts cannot yet use the new test scores in teachers’ performance evaluations.
A website overhaul that makes it easier for community college students to know which online classes are best for their academic goals is the first tangible product of California’s $59 million push to make cyber college available for all.
State college officials unveiled the new website Monday, two years after lawmakers authorized spending the money over five years and made online education a key part of their plan to transform community college students from aimless course-takers into scholars with an eye toward university transfer.
The colleges offer thousands of online courses. But students complained that information they needed was often hard to find on the old site and that it couldn’t be used where they needed it the most: on their phones. Now it is.
“California may well be one of the largest providers of online education in the country,” said Brice Harris, the state’s community college chancellor. “We have a responsibility to make it good as we can and to provide support.”
The improved website — dubbed the “Virtual Campus” of the community colleges’ Online Education Initiative — is supposed to make it easy for students to find what they need from among more than 19,000 online courses offered at every level: community college, California State University, University of California, and even private schools.
But its main goal is to steer students toward the 2,500 classes that will earn them not merely an associate’s degree, but an associate’s degree “for transfer.” That degree premiered in 2013 and guarantees admission as a junior to CSU. The site “now provides search priorities that can be set for the associate degree for transfer,” said Steve Klein, program director of the Online Education Initiative.
Bold headlines — “Find your career path with an associate degree for transfer” or “Interested in guaranteed admission into a CSU?” — flash across the screen. But California has 2.1 million community students, and backing those promises up with enough courses to make it possible for all students to get the classes they need requires a huge amount of virtual assistance through online classes.
Online enrollment has more than doubled since 2005, from 13 percent to more than 29 percent this year, college officials said. That’s more than 650,000 students.
But the news isn’t all rosy.
Success in online courses is 11 to 14 percentage points lower than in traditional classrooms, says a 2014 study by the Public Policy Institute of California. The study looked at a wide range of students, subjects and colleges and found that students were less likely to complete online courses than those taken in the classroom, and were less likely to pass them.
Rather than give up, the college system — at the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, a champion of online education — hopes to improve those outcomes. A new Public Policy Institute study with recommendations for the online effort is due out Tuesday.
A big reason students drop out is that they “don’t know what they’re getting into,” said Pat James, executive director of the online education initiative, who has taught online for years. “Very often they think it’s going to be easier. But you have to be self-motivated.”
One student who is self-motivated is Cristina Puente, 18, of Davis who has just graduated from high school and community college at the same time. Puente took all of her college courses online through Foothill Community College and will be a junior at UCLA this fall.
“A family friend who is savvy and technically smart worked alongside me” to sign up for the right courses, she said. “Without her, it would have been more challenging.” The new website, Puente said, “is a tool, like having a counselor. I think that’s wonderful.”
James and Klein said the next step in the online education initiative is to train instructors to do a better job, and to help students learn how to be students in the virtual world, where no one is there to welcome them with an open door and a clock on the wall to say that class is starting.
Ida Marie Briggs, shown at Cal State Long Beach, enrolled in community college as a young woman, but family and work kept her from earning a degree. Now, at 58, she’s about to re-enter school at Cal State Long Beach in the fall, determined to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Earning a college degree has eluded Ida Marie Briggs for nearly 40 years.
Growing up the eldest of seven in a poor New Jersey household, she wasn’t able to accept a scholarship at a local university because of family responsibilities. Out on her own, she went to work, relocated to California and raised two children.
There were fits and starts over the decades: She enrolled in community college, attended a fashion and design school, and a San Fernando Valley business college that lost accreditation and cost Briggs time and money.
Her experience mirrors that of a population beginning to receive more attention from academic experts and colleges themselves: African Americans who have some college training but never made it to graduation. Their challenges are important because many would likely fill higher-wage jobs if they attained a degree.
In California and around the nation, campus-based programs have sprung up to coax many of these adults to re-enter college. These efforts, however, face a number of hurdles, including a lack of awareness that a degree may be within reach, limited financial resources and inadequate outreach and support services, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity.
About a third of black adults in California — 385,250 — have some college education but no degree, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group, according to the report. Overall, about 4.5 million California adults never completed their studies.
There is no statewide strategy to help those who want to return to school, nor adequate funding for programs, said Michele Siqueiros, president of the advocacy group.
“The numbers are pretty stunning,” Siqueiros said. “We should be incentivizing adults interested in finishing and earning those degrees to come back. Not all will, but this is low-hanging fruit. Growing capacity, though, is going to require additional funding from the state.”
Under budget proposals by Gov. Jerry Brown, state funding for the University of California, Cal State and community colleges has increased this year. The 2015-16 plan calls for the three higher education systems to ease transfer policies, boost basic skills instruction and improve graduation rates — particularly for low-income and minority students.
Many of those goals may help re-entry students, but no specific funds are targeted to that group. And both UC and Cal State officials have complained that the budget plan doesn’t provide funding needed to increase enrollment.
The problems are not confined to California.
Nationally, enrollment of older, nontraditional students (adults 25 and over) is expected to grow more than twice as fast as for younger students in coming years, according to a recent report by the Center for Law and Social Policy.
But many financial aid and transfer policies are not keeping pace. A survey of the nation’s largest state-funded financial aid programs by the Education Commission of the States found that 33 of them link eligibility to the SAT and other college entrance exams, high school GPAs or other measures geared toward recent graduates. Many programs fund only full-time students, leaving out adults who may need to attend part time.
In California, the availability of Cal Grants dips steeply for students who don’t apply within a year of graduating from high school, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.
Additionally, many colleges and universities may not accept credits previously earned at other institutions, through online programs or for military training or work experience and may require students to take pre-college courses. Such policies could have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, who typically are heavily recruited by for-profit institutions and may end up with huge debt.
Many experts believe that the role of adult re-entry students may loom large in efforts to substantially increase the ranks of degree holders needed to bolster the nation’s workforce and economy, an agenda being pressed by President Obama and nonprofit organizations such as the Lumina Foundation.
“Unfortunately, this group is not at the top of anybody’s priority,” said Christina Sedney, project coordinator for the Adult College Completion Network.
Some states, such as Georgia and Texas, are moving to coordinate re-entry programs with flexible schedules and scholarship opportunities involving several participating universities. California’s public colleges and universities need to move equally aggressively, said Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.
“We need to think of ways to make coming back as efficient as possible for nontraditional students,” Johnson said. “Both UC and CSU are increasingly offering more online courses, and that will help. All of these are incremental changes but incremental changes in the right direction and necessary to help close some of those gaps.”
A program at UC Berkeley includes a course that helps re-entering students connect with each other. Many are low-income, underrepresented students who’ve had little experience at a competitive research-oriented institution such as Cal, said Ron Williams, director of Re-entry Student and Veteran Services at the campus.
Their life experiences and maturity may even be a “selling point” in the competitive admissions process, he said, adding that “it does set them apart from other applicants.”
Cal State Long Beach is actively recruiting African Americans to complete their degrees, with counseling, academic support and help with financial aid, said Bruce Vancil, assistant director for transfer and re-entry services.
Briggs attended a recent luncheon meeting of the African American initiative in Long Beach, which landed her in Vancil’s office to determine her prospects and whether her previous credits can be transferred.
At 58, she hopes to enroll at the Long Beach campus in the fall, determined to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Being unable to complete her education after high school had always been a big regret, Briggs said.
“Now I understand that I got accepted once and can get accepted again,” she said.