Half of California State University freshmen are unprepared for basic-level English classes. What’s more, these entering freshmen had an average high school GPA of 3.3. CSU administers a groundbreaking college-readiness assessment called the Early Assessment Program (EAP).

The EAP is a voluntary exam that 11th graders may elect to take along with the 11th-grade California Standards Test (CST).  The EAP is designed to inform students whether they are ready for college-level work in English and mathematics.  Students who are not ready for college-level work have their senior year to raise their performance to meet the demands and expectations of higher education. The EAP is also designed to curb college freshmen remediation rates. According to the CSU:

More than 60 percent of the nearly 40,000 first-time freshmen admitted to the CSU require remedial education in English, mathematics or both. These 25,000 freshmen all have taken the required college preparatory curriculum and earned at least a B grade point average in high school. The cost in time and money to these students and to the state is substantial. Moreover, these students are confused by seemingly having done the right things in high school only to find out after admission to the CSU that they need further preparation.

Statewide, of the 11th-graders who opted to take the EAP in 2009, only 16 percent tested college-ready in English; and only 13 percent tested ready in college math. A stunning 5 percent of students tested college ready in Algebra II. (Go here and just click “View Report” on the upper-left corner for statewide results).

California has some of the country’s highest academic content standards, so why are students so poorly prepared? Don’t blame the standards, or the tests. Blame the lack of education options. Students are tested annually to see whether the have mastered grade-level proficiency in the basics. If students do not score proficient after two years, or they are in failing schools, they should be able to use scholarships to transfer to better schools, public or private-similar to Florida’s A+ Accountability Program. Students may use Opportunity Scholarships to attend better public schools, or use Florida Tax Credit Scholarships to attend high-quality private schools.

California’s promote-now, pay later approach to college preparation is a $14 billion failure-and it shouldn’t take until 11th grade for students to get the help they need.