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Four out of five California community college students must take a remedial math or English class at some point in their college career. For some, that’s largely repeating what they already learned in high school.

But under a proposed bill headed to the governor’s desk that passed unanimously Thursday in the state Legislature, many more students may soon avoid that path.

Assembly Bill 705 would require community colleges to consider high school GPA or coursework as part of the menu of tools they use to determine whether a student is ready for college-level math and English classes — abandoning a reliance on standardized tests that critics say has trapped thousands in remediation and can derail their chances of earning a college degree.

It would also prohibit colleges from placing students in remedial courses unless evaluations that include high school work show that those students “are highly unlikely” to succeed in college-level math and English courses.

The proposed law’s main goal is to “maximize the probability that the student will enter and complete transfer-level coursework in English and mathematics” within a year, according to the legislation’s language, which was written by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks).

The bill is consistent with recommendations in the Vision for Success report issued this spring by Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the chancellor of the California Community Colleges who backs the bill.

Oakley said the legislation will help give reforms currently underway at the community college system more teeth. “Many of our colleges have embraced an evidence-based multiple measures approach to placement, but across our system progress has been slow,” said Oakley. “AB 705 calls on the California Community Colleges to enact the statewide reforms that will provide every student a strong start on their path to a certificate or degree.”

Unlike the CSU and UC systems, the community colleges are run by locally elected boards of trustees. The statewide Board of Governors, whose members are appointed by Gov. Brown, has limited powers to impose reforms throughout the system.

Jessie Ryan, executive vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a key supporter of the bill, said she expects that Gov. Brown will sign the bill. “We’ve been in conversations with the governor’s office and based on those positive conversations, we feel hopeful AB 705 will be signed.”

Irwin’s bill is a response to growing concern among scholars in the state and nationwide who say both the way students are placed in remedial courses — a standardized test at the start of the school year at the expense of years of high school grades — and the design of the courses themselves are unfair.

“We know the system is not working,” Irwin said about remedial courses, which cost money and are required before students can enter the college-level courses that are needed for graduation or transfer to a Cal State, UC or other four-year college.

AB 705’s language could also prompt community colleges to move away from the typical structure of remedial courses and toward one where students in need of extra help are placed in college-level classes with concurrent additional academic supports — a model known as co-requisite classes. The potential overhaul is similar to a major policy change announced at the California State University system this summer and designed to expedite the path to a degree or certificate. Students placed in remediation sometimes need to spend three semesters passing these courses before they are deemed ready for college-level math or English — slowing them down and hurting morale.

According to a 2016 report of the Public Police Institute of California (PPIC), students placed in remedial courses are less likely to pass subsequent college-level math or English courses and move onto a degree.

That hurts not only students but the state’s economic competitiveness, as California needs 1.1 million more bachelor’s earners by 2030 to remain competitive economically, according to another PPIC report.

Some academics have worried in the past that the co-requisite model may not be enough to bring the most academically behind students up to speed. And a 2016 Columbia University review warned that researchers are still unsure about what makes a co-requisite model effective and why some students don’t benefit from it. AB 705’s language gives colleges flexibility, saying such courses should be made available to students only if their multiple-measure placement results show they can catch up on math or English skills using the expedited approach.

While California’s community colleges are required to use multiple measures, most colleges apply them only in limited scope. “Nothing specifies how we use them,” said Katie Hern, English instructor at Chabot College and co-founder of the California Acceleration Project, which has advocated for multiple measures and reforms to remedial education.

“Multiple measures in the past hasn’t necessarily even meant that we would really think about high school grades,” she said.

The bill’s language doesn’t outright ban the use of placement tests. Instead, community colleges would weigh a student’s placement test scores and high school coursework or overall grade point average and select the measurement that shows higher performance. That’s a break from what typically happens at many community colleges where officials may defer to high school grades only if a student just missed the cut-off mark on her placement test.

The law’s passage would link California’s community colleges more closely to placement and remedial education reforms happening inside and outside the state. For example, according to a report set to come out this month co-written by Hern, Cuyamaca College near San Diego adopted the reforms spelled out in AB 705 for its math program. The results show that using high school grades for placement and enrolling students in college-level math with additional support instead of traditional remedial classes increased the percentage of students passing a college-level course within a year from 10 percent to 67 percent.

“When you think about it, it makes sense,” said the college’s chair of the math department in the report. “Success in past coursework is a much better predictor of success in future coursework than any one-time, high-stakes test could ever be.”

Long Beach City College rolled out its multiple measures placement tool in the fall of 2012 as part of a broader effort to ensure more students earn degrees and transfer to a four-year university. And more California community colleges have been shifting to a multiple measures template under the Multiple Measures Assessment Project, in which 86 campuses are participating. Other schools across the country use a hybrid approach, taking into account placement tests, college entrance exams and student high school records, or deferring to high school grades alone if the student’s GPA is high enough (see page 7 of this report).

A sizeable chunk of the community college system’s roughly $8.6 billion annual budget has gone toward improving its remedial education. The state spent $90 million the past two years on a grant program for colleges to enroll more students directly into college-level courses. Since 2007-08, the state has also provided at least $20 million annually for the Basic Skills Initiative to improve remedial instruction, with funding scheduled to increase to $50 million in 2017-18.

Those investments coincided with an uptick in the percentage of students who within six years completed a remedial math or English course and then passed a college-level course between 2012-13 and 2015-16 — from 42.8 percent to 46.9 percent in English and from 29.9 percent to 34.2 percent in math — according to the California Community Colleges Student Success Scorecard.

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  1. Steve 7 months ago7 months ago

    I’m seeing the horrible transformation in its application to community college math standards - both in the teaching and the learning aspects. The new method of teaching that goes hand in hand with AB 705 in its effort to graduate more students in the shortest amount of time is what I call “social learning.” The professor is no longer someone who lectures, disseminating information in a creative and concise way in a … Read More

    I’m seeing the horrible transformation in its application to community college math standards – both in the teaching and the learning aspects. The new method of teaching that goes hand in hand with AB 705 in its effort to graduate more students in the shortest amount of time is what I call “social learning.” The professor is no longer someone who lectures, disseminating information in a creative and concise way in a short amount of time. Now he/she is a pseudo-psychologist who facilitates group discussions held by students in small 3-4 person groups as they chat about topics relevant to the course (about which they have no knowledge and very little if any prior preparation).

    Talk about putting the cart before the horse! Someone once came up with a brilliant idea of the “reverse classroom.” Give students lecture videos and reading assignments so that most of the learning is done prior to class and use the precious few hours of class time to then answer questions. Nice in theory but you’ll have one of two outcomes: (1) if you don’t make this prior prep work a major grade factor then you’ll hear crickets during class since very few if any will have prepared or (2) if you make it a large grade factor you’ll get about 1 in 5 students to do it, but be prepared to fail a large percent of your students since again most will not have done the prep work even at the cost of a failing grade. This is why the new social learning model fails. It puts a low grade weight on prep work knowing that an overwhelming majority of the students are lazy (and we don’t want to fail them) then it dumbs down the pace of covering new subject material during the classroom hours by letting students discuss the very topics they didn’t prep for. You now have a class of the blind leading the blind.

    So what does that logically necessitate the professor to do to make the discussions “productive”? You guessed it, make the topics simple enough so that the student can grasp it in a group discussion. This just goes to what is common knowledge to all educators, which is that real learning occurs only when a student is willing to put in the time (and obviously most of that time occurs outside of classroom). Someone becomes a good tennis player when they spend long hours on the court. Short tennis lessons (ie class time ) only hones their skill by guidance on what is effective or correct.

    But our Democratic Party legislators in California want to reinvent the wheel– they are progressive. Their pressing question: how do we pump out more associate degrees in fewer years regardless of whether the student has any true mastery of the material? Prior to AB 705 the emphasis was on pumping out as many high school diplomas as possible regardless of any mastery of even remedial subjects. You can see the outcome of this dumbing down in that standardized community college math assessment tests showed that upwards of 85% of incoming freshmen were deficient in remedial math knowledge. All too common was the student who took two years of high school algebra but couldn’t add fractions. So in the past they were correctly placed into a low level course having miserably failed the assessment test.
    But here again comes student apathy in that now having to pass 2 or 3 remedial math courses to even get to a college level course, a large percentage of students did not want to put in the time – are we seeing a pattern emerge here? The result was math had become a “barrier to graduate,” math was a serous bottleneck. The brilliant solution? AB 705. Don’t place students according to a test (no that’s too logical, unbiased and uniform like the SAT test ). Instead use their prior GPA and last high school math course taken as the new assessment rule. What’s the analogy here? You’re about to hire Joe to build a swimming pool in your backyard but you’re unsure of his qualifications so you ask him for a reference. Joe says he’s got excellent credentials, and if you’re skeptical just ask his wife.

    So what’s the upshot of AB 705? Certainly the bottleneck is now eliminated. Where 100 freshman were taking college transferable courses per year, now you’ve got 1,000 per year. But this is where the “fit hits the shan”; the tremendous administrative, psychological, and financial pressure on the Instructor to keep failure rates low. Yes the new cohort of math students are bad since they are now taking pre-calculus and they can’t add fractions. Failing 50 out of 100 in the past wasn’t so bad because the 100 were legitimately supposed to be there whether by doing well on a standardized placement exam or taking the long road of passing remedial courses. But now from the new cohort of 1,000 you find that you could easily fail 95% of them if you applied the same standard to that past group of 100.
    But wow, that’s insane! Only passing 50 out of 1,000? That spells bad in multiple ways. First, you would be scolded by your dean for now passing only 5% whereas before you passed 50%. Second , you would almost certainly hurt yourself financially because you’d gain a reputation on ratemyprofessor as a no-nonsense hard ass who has standards (ie The students must know something to pass your class). When it comes to intercession classes during winter and summer and overload classes during fall and spring, you’d have poor enrollment and the administration would can your classes, and that is a major financial disincentive. Having loose standards pays off.

    So the Instructor doesn’t fail 95% of the 1000 but psychologically justifies the prior 50% that they applied to the 100 and abra-ca-dabra, 500 will now pass!

    Let’s look at the numbers now:
    1). Prior to AB 705 only 50 students had passed college transfer level classes per year
    2). After AB 705 now 500 students have passed these same college level courses per year
    Yay!! That’s a ten-fold improvement! The new system must be working; the numbers and stats speak for its success. Someone once said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Likewise, many California students graduate with high school diplomas but are dumb as rocks. Now with AB 705, we’ll proudly give them associates degrees … still as dumb as rocks.

    Leave it up to a mostly Democratic Party run state.

    Replies

    • Kyle Chang 6 months ago6 months ago

      Remedial education is a waste of tax payers dollars-That’s hard earned money that could be better spent elsewhere!

    • Kyle Jonathan Chang 2 months ago2 months ago

      Math is a waste of time in college for non-STEM majors!

  2. Kyle Chang 2 years ago2 years ago

    Remedial Education is the tar pits and waste of time money, energy, and resources in college!

  3. Rafael 2 years ago2 years ago

    Students come to community college math courses profoundly unprepared. But AB 705 will just dumb down the courses so more may be pumped through the system, but without ever having to master any math. This isn’t a solution at all. I guess it’s time to retire from teaching math.

  4. Mark Tarte 2 years ago2 years ago

    This bill is just another attempt by the state to keep from paying for students at a community college. If the state truly wanted to get these students prepared for college, even at a community college with the idea to get them ready for transfer, then how about requiring the K-12 system to get these kids ready for college? Oh, that's right, we have to ensure the K-12 teachers check those boxes for … Read More

    This bill is just another attempt by the state to keep from paying for students at a community college. If the state truly wanted to get these students prepared for college, even at a community college with the idea to get them ready for transfer, then how about requiring the K-12 system to get these kids ready for college? Oh, that’s right, we have to ensure the K-12 teachers check those boxes for all of the failed improvement projects, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the latest, Common Core, that will also be on the trash heap of failed educational “improvement” programs. Who in the Statehouse has ever worked in a classroom for more than a year? This puts the burden of proof on math and English instructors in community colleges when a student who is obviously failing, to prove that the student needs remediation. I am so glad I retire in June, this BS is just one more nail in the coffin that was higher education in California.

  5. Jonathan Raymond 2 years ago2 years ago

    Amen! Using multiple measures (like high school grades) to assess student’s strengths and readiness for college classes makes so much sense. In fact, we should be doing more of this with our k – 12 students – starting with the use of performance assessments to measure real mastery of learning. We should be sending the signal that standardized tests, be they Smarter Balance or the SAT (hello, College Board) have limited value.

  6. ann 2 years ago2 years ago

    Combine this with the 'credentialed' vs 'effective' teacher debate and the future of California is clear. The current and future cohort in California are likely to be the most ill prepared ever to graduate and graduate they will. Now they will also be admitted to our colleges and universities despite their lack of preparedness. "For some, that’s largely repeating what they already learned in high school." If they had 'learned' they would have passed … Read More

    Combine this with the ‘credentialed’ vs ‘effective’ teacher debate and the future of California is clear. The current and future cohort in California are likely to be the most ill prepared ever to graduate and graduate they will. Now they will also be admitted to our colleges and universities despite their lack of preparedness. “For some, that’s largely repeating what they already learned in high school.” If they had ‘learned’ they would have passed the test.

    Replies

    • Michael Serpa 2 years ago2 years ago

      You are absolutely correct, Ann. This bill is of huge concern.