Despite a sparkling 3.29 grade point average in high school, nearly half of last year's freshman class at California State University campuses was unqualified to take entry-level college English.
Nearly 40 percent were deemed unqualified to take freshman math.
Instead, this group of students with the overall B-plus average were diverted to remedial instruction to improve their skills.
"Why are they getting A's and B's in high school and they are not even ready to start college? That is what we are wondering as well. It's a huge, huge subject of research right now," said Matt Benney, executive director of budget and planning assessment at Sonoma State University's student affairs and enrollment management department.
In Sonoma County, the percentage of students deemed unprepared for entry-level college English and math at the end of their junior years were 75 and 39 percent, respectively. Only a portion of those will be accepted into the CSU system.
The information comes from an optional set of questions that appear in the annual Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program. If students show adequate proficiency, they can bypass <NO1><NO>remedial English and math classes at CSU campuses as well as at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Local educators say the problem with what students learn in high school and what they need to know for college is complex and mired in bureaucracy.
In Sonoma County, the coursework a student needs for a high school diploma is not adequate to make them eligible to even apply to a CSU campus, let alone get in.
"When high school standards were being made, higher education was not invited to the table. There was no conversation of what was expected at the CSUs or UCs or community colleges for that matter," said Katheryn Horton, Sonoma-Marin Regional Director of Cal-PASS, a statewide organization that analyzes student academic data.
That academic gap is exacerbated by the federal No Child Left Behind law that requires schools and districts to have every single student become 100 percent academically proficient by 2014.<NO1><NO>
"It's much more about the STAR test and No Child Left Behind than it is about college preparation," Horton said.
"There is a lot of emphasis in No Child Left Behind in bringing up the lowest students to a minimum level and not a lot of effort to get a solid performing student ready for college," he said.
To combat that divide, CSU in 2004 launched an $8 million-a-year program to educate teachers about what college professors expect. The push is part of a wider CSU campaign to improve graduation rates.
"Their ability to read critically — expository reading — most English teachers weren't teaching it. They preferred literature. It's an area we referred to as undertaught," said Allison Jones, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at CSU.
There also is concern that many students do not take a math class their senior year because upper-level math courses are not required for a high school diploma or admission to CSUs.
That lost year erodes much of a student's math skills, officials said.
"A lot of seniors don't necessarily go to school all day," said Nancy Brownell, assistant superintendent of instruction at the Sonoma County Office of Education.
"They might be learning a lot of things in high school but are they learning exactly what they need to be successful in college? Some high schools do a better job in finding out what that is," Benney said.