la dAILY NEWS OP-ED By Ralph E. Shaffer - cAL pOLY Pomona professor emeritus of history.
6/26/08 — Charter school proponents love to brag about the large number of their high school graduates who move on to college. With this year's commencement ceremonies over, it's time to ask just how well those grads - from either charters or traditional high schools - are prepared for rigorous college work involving the use of the English language.
In Los Angeles County, on the one exam that is specifically designed to answer that question, test scores for 11th-graders in traditional high schools far exceed the results from charter schools.
The test in question, the California State University system's Early Assessment Program, is taken by the state's 11th-graders to determine their readiness for college-level work in English. It's given in May for the purpose of informing students what areas of English they need to work on during their senior year.
Test results from this past May are not yet posted, but scores from the 2007 exam for each high school in any district can be found on the EAP Web site, www.calstate.edu/EAP/.
The average high school pass rate in all L.A. County schools - traditional and charter - was a scant 14percent. Eighty percent of the county's 11th-graders took the test. In some districts all eligible students took it, as did all 11th-graders in one-third of the charters.
Of the 53 L.A. County districts in which the test was given, 29 equaled or exceeded the county average. But only five of the 35 charter schools reached that level.
The highest-scoring district was San Marino, where 61 percent of the district's 11th-graders were considered college-ready before they had started their senior year. Palos Verdes Peninula's two high schools both scored well, with a combined test score of 46 percent, placing second. Arcadia (44 percent), Walnut Valley (30 percent) and La Canada (38 percent) rounded out the top five districts. Las Virgenes (37 percent), South Pasadena (36 percent), Hawthorne (35 percent), El Segundo (31percent) and Beverly Hills (29percent) followed. At the lower end - in Compton, Bassett, Inglewood, Lynwood and Centinela Valley - the pass rate was 5 percent or less.
Within the Los Angeles Unified School District, the results were even more disappointing. It didn't seem to make much difference whether the student attended school in a depressed minority area or in a more affluent section of town. Not a single student at either Locke High or Westchester High was deemed college-ready for work in English.
But the charters fared even worse. Thirty-five Los Angeles County charters administered the English EAP in 2007. In 12, not a single student passed the test.
Only five of the 35 charter schools reached the countywide pass rate of 14 percent.
The highest-scoring charter was Granada Hills High School. Its 36 percent pass rate would have placed it in a tie for seventh among traditional county districts.
At one time, 11th-grade English was the last course that most kids took in that subject. Those entering the University of California system faced the dreaded Subject A exam, then the equivalent of the EAP. It was not uncommon for a UC student to spend a semester in Subject A boning up on English composition during the freshman year at Berkeley or UCLA.
Not much has changed in 60 years. Many students are still not ready to do college work in English, but the EAP shows that charter grads are even less prepared than kids from traditional high schools.
- Ralph E. Shaffer is a California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, professor emeritus of history. Write to him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.