SMC graduation, 2011. (File photo)
SMC graduation, 2011. (File photo)

PICO BOULEVARD — A new state-mandated scorecard to measure performance at Santa Monica College shows declines in four of six measures over the past five years, but uses methodology that leaves school officials questioning its usefulness.

The report card builds off an older model which tracked student success in getting a degree, sticking through at least three consecutive terms, finishing at least 30 class units within six years and accomplishing certain career development or college preparation goals.

It also adds two new categories, which look at student accomplishment in career technical education and success rates of students who take a college-level math or English course if they entered community college unprepared to do so.

Over the past five years, completion rates, progress for students behind in math and English and the number of students making it through career technical education have all declined, according to the report.

Students receiving degrees, certificates or meeting transfer requirements dropped from 58.2 percent for those beginning school in the 2002-03 school year to 51.4 percent for those who started in the 2006-07 year, the most recent data available.

Progress in remedial math dropped from 31.4 percent to 29.4 percent over the same time period, and progress in remedial English dropped by 5 percentage points to 43.4 percent.

Although neither “disappointed nor particularly surprised” by the results, the information comes with a big caveat, said Randal Lawson, executive vice president of SMC.

It excludes any student without a Social Security number because the community colleges don’t have system-wide identification numbers and use Social Security numbers to track students when they move from college to college.

That means international and undocumented students do not get factored into the mix.

Those students comprise 14 percent of the population of SMC, Lawson said.

When the SMC Office of Institutional Research added those students back into the population, almost every metric improved, according to the report.

While the report doesn’t accurately reflect the population of SMC, it also makes it impossible to measure schools against other schools. Although information gathered falls into specific categories, each school defines what goes where, meaning schools can inflate their performance by setting lower standards than their neighbors.

Still, the scorecard has provided college officials with something they never had before — a breakdown of student performance by those considered “prepared” for college, meaning the first class they took at SMC was college-level, and those “unprepared” who had to take a remedial course.

While 51.4 percent of the students counted in the report got their degree, transferred to a four-year or got a certificate, that number jumped up to 75.8 percent for prepared students.

Only 40.5 percent of unprepared students managed to hit that goal.

They also outperformed unprepared students in hitting the 30-unit mark, but tended not to meet “persistence” goals at the same rate, where 65.7 percent of unprepared students stuck it out for three consecutive terms compared to 61.4 percent of prepared students.

Although the declines look “disturbing” at first blush, it’s hard to make definitive statements about it until the college has additional years for comparison, said Louise Jaffe, a member of the SMC Board of Trustees.

The breakdown of prepared and unprepared students, however, is very useful, and may be critical to changing the way people think about community college, she said.

Community colleges, unlike CSUs and UCs, accept any student who applies, regardless of academic prowess. Students who assume they’re going to community college may not think their high school work matters as much, Jaffe said.

“This clear difference on what’s going to happen based on how well-prepared you are or are not is an important communication device,” Jaffe said.

SMC will take the information in this report and its own internal measures to inform budgeting and policy moving forward, as it has in the past, Lawson said.

Two years ago, in the midst of budget cuts, SMC officials set aside roughly $500,000 for supplemental instruction to target students who needed extra support to get up to college level after high school.

Entire curriculums were reformed to cut down on the length of time that students stay in developmental classes, Lawson said.

“Half a million was a significant amount of general funds that we allocated there because the board believed strongly that this would work,” Lawson said. “We will continue to do that, and I do think that the situation will slowly be better.”

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