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Reports from Policy Analysts

LAO Review of CSU Early Start Program

Submitted On: Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Analyst: Melzer, Dan

The Legislative Analyst's Office has released a report on the California State University Early Start program. Early Start is a Chancellor's Office mandated program requiring students who score below the English Placement Test "remediation" cut score to take a summer preparation activity before beginning their college composition course. You can find the report at:

The report critiques Early Start primarily on two grounds: that there is no data showing that Early Start has any effect on student success, and that most individual CSU campuses felt that because Early Start is not integrated into a student's first year of college it lacks context, and therefore most campuses limited Early Start to a compressed, one-unit course.

The report encourages the CSU Chancellor's Office to discontinue Early Start and instead focus on the root causes of "remediation," the validity of the entrance placement test, the rigor of entry standards, and high school preparation.

Although the report does critique Early Start for its lack of evidence for effectiveness and the conflict between the Early Start program and the best-practices (like stretch courses) in place at most CSU campuses, it does repeat many of the tropes of the deficit model of remediation that have been critiqued by Composition scholars such as Mike Rose, Ira Shor, Mary Soliday, and Tom Fox:

It falls into the "myth of transcience" (Rose): that if we only did something differently, we can eliminate "remediation" and make all students college-ready.

It contrasts "remedial" students with "regular" students, and fails to acknowledge the assets that these students bring with them. 

It places the blame primarily on students and high school teachers without acknowledging the underlying socioeconomic issues: the nature of California's immigrant population, the inequalities faced by the ethnic groups that are disproportionately placed into "remedial" programs, the lack of funding and resultant increase in class sizes in K-12, the challenges of first-generation college students, the downturn in the economy and increase in tuition that is causing more students to work longer hours while attending school, etc.

It focuses on standards rather than access, emphasizing a gatekeeping approach that conflicts with the mission of the CSU as the people's university.  

Academic Level

Higher Education



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