New data suggests that Santa Rosa Junior College students complete degrees and certificates at roughly the same rate as their peers statewide, but the college's remedial students are less likely to ever complete a college-level math or English course.

Junior college officials expressed uncertainty Tuesday on whether California's new Student Success Scorecard had pinpointed an area of underachievement in Sonoma County or simply demonstrated the need for better data collection.

But they vowed to more closely examine the data for remedial students, even as they prepare to teach an increasing number of such students seeking admission.

College President Frank Chong noted that nearly half of the college's new students are Latino, an ethnic group that historically has experienced lower levels of achievement than white students. For example, only 16 percent of the county's Latino high school graduates last year completed all the courses needed to enter a four-year college — half the rate of white graduates.

"We do need to change as the community population changes," Chong said. He also cautioned that at times the scorecard is actually highlighting income disparities affecting student achievement without answering the more pressing question: "What do we do about it?"

The Student Success Scorecard was unveiled Tuesday on a state website that provides results for all 112 of California's community colleges. State officials called it a new accountability system that will provide the public a way to measure how well each campus is preparing students for four-year colleges or technical careers.

Unlike the accountability system for the state's public schools, the scorecard doesn't report school test scores. Instead, it measures milestones of progress leading up to the receipt of a degree or technical certificate.

As well, the scorecard tracks an entering class of freshmen for six years in order to see how many complete what traditionally has been considered a two-year degree. As such, the most recent data released Tuesday comes from students who began college in the fall of 2006.

The new scorecard allowed officials a way to measure the achievement gap between students who enter the system ready to do college-level work and those who first must take remedial courses.

Among those who entered a community college in 2006-07, 71.2 percent of the "prepared" students statewide had received a degree or certificate or were eligible to transfer to a four-year university within six years. In contrast, only 41.1 of the "unprepared" students achieved the same results.

The rates were nearly the same at Santa Rosa Junior College, which has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the top institutions in the state. The state reported that 70.1 percent of prepared students were deemed to have reached the level of completion, compared to 43.1 percent of the unprepared students.

However, the state reported that the junior college underperformed in the area of remedial students who advance to college-level math and English courses.

Only 29.3 percent of the college's remedial students went on to complete a college-level math course and only 26.6 percent finished a college-level English course. In comparison, the rate statewide was 37.1 percent and 38.1 percent respectively.

The difference was even greater for students who speak a language other than English and who went on to a college-level English course. Only 13.9 percent of the junior college's English learners completed the equivalent of College 1A, compared to 31.9 percent for the state.

In a teleconference with reporters, Community College Chancellor Brice W. Harris noted the remedial rates may be so low because the data includes many returning students who need to brush up on skills before advancing to college-level classes. Even so, he said of the statewide rates, "Clearly we're not succeeding with this group at an acceptable level."

Harris also noted that the completion rate statewide dipped slightly over the five entering classes between 2002 and 2006 whose performance was tracked for six years. He attributed some of that decline to a drop in classes and other resources related to state budget cuts.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com.