Credit: Andrew Reed / EdSource
This story was edited at 5:18 p.m. to clarify that remedial courses are considered non-credit when a student transfers to a four-year university.

At least one-third of California’s community colleges are still unnecessarily enrolling students in remedial math classes that can’t be used for transfer to a four-year university — a practice that could come to an end if new state legislation is signed into law, a new analysis found.

At 38 of the state’s 115 degree-granting community colleges, students with strong high school records are being enrolled in remedial math classes, according to a report released Monday by the California Acceleration Project, a group advocating for the elimination of remedial classes. This fall, those colleges are among 47 colleges that are planning to continue offering remedial classes.

The report says the colleges are violating the intent of Assembly Bill 705, a law passed in 2017 that says colleges must allow students access to transfer-level classes unless they are deemed highly unlikely to succeed in those courses.

According to the report, none of those 38 colleges could justify their plans to continue offering remedial math courses. All the colleges “inappropriately allowed multiple groups of students with strong high school performance to enroll in remedial courses,” the report states. The California Acceleration Project considered students to have strong high school performance if they had at least a 2.3 GPA or a 2.6 GPA, depending on their math pathway. A student with a lower GPA could also be considered high-performing if they took precalculus in high school.

At those 38 colleges, even students with the lowest high school GPAs who were able to bypass remedial classes and enroll directly in transfer-level classes were more likely to complete the transfer-level classes within one year, according to the analysis.

Critics of remedial education say that under the law, those classes should either not be offered at all or offered only in very limited circumstances. They also say the problem would be fixed with Assembly Bill 1705, proposed legislation that builds on AB 705 by creating stricter rules dictating when colleges are allowed to enroll students in remedial classes. The legislation has already cleared the state Assembly and is expected to be considered in the state’s Senate Education Committee this month.

The main opposition to the legislation is the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, a statewide advocacy group that has argued the bill creates too many new rules and will prevent counselors from being able to do their jobs.

Supporters of the bill say the strict rules are necessary because, in their view, counselors should have to use objective measures like high school grades when determining where to enroll students. Otherwise, the bill’s supporters fear that counselors may rely on their own personal beliefs or implicit biases when making those decisions.

Katie Hern, co-founder of the California Acceleration Project, said it is “a clear violation of AB 705 when colleges continue to enroll students in remedial courses when their high school GPA should put them into transfer-level classes.”

Remedial classes have been shown to often derail community college students from completing their degrees and transferring, a trend that was a main impetus behind the adoption of AB 705 in 2017. Research also showed that students would be much more likely to complete transfer-level coursework within a year if they were allowed to enroll directly in those classes.

Groups like the California Acceleration Project have questioned whether all colleges are complying with that law since many are still offering remedial classes. Last fall, the statewide Chancellor’s Office issued a memo to all colleges instructing them to fully implement the law by this fall. “With some limited exceptions, this means that by fall 2022 all U.S. high school graduate students, both new and continuing, in certificate, degree or transfer programs, will be placed into and enroll in transfer level English and math/quantitative reasoning course,” the Chancellor’s Office wrote in the memo.

The Chancellor’s Office also instructed colleges by this past March to submit reports detailing their plans for remedial classes.

In the study released Monday, the California Acceleration Project analyzed those reports. The group found that the majority of colleges are on track for full implementation by this fall: Sixty-eight colleges do not plan to offer any remedial classes and will instead enroll all students directly in transfer-level classes. At most colleges, students will have the opportunity to take transfer courses by simultaneously enrolling in co-requisite courses, which offer extra support such as tutoring for the transfer-level coursework.

When the California Acceleration Project did a similar analysis in 2020, remedial classes accounted for at least 20% of introductory math classes at 69 colleges. This year’s report found that 47 colleges plan to offer remedial classes in fall 2022.

“So there’s been real, notable progress since then, and that’s a very good sign for students,” Hern said.

Still, much work remains to get all colleges to full implementation, Hern added.

Of the 47 colleges planning to continue remedial math enrollments this fall, five of them did not submit data to explain why they planned to continue offering those courses and four colleges didn’t submit adequate data. Hern’s group analyzed the 38 colleges that did submit data and studied their fall 2021 enrollment patterns.

Like past studies, the analysis also found that colleges with higher numbers of Black and Latino students are more likely to offer remedial classes in the fall.

The new legislation, AB 1705, would make it more difficult for those colleges to enroll students in remedial courses. The law clarifies that colleges must rely primarily on high school transcript data when determining where to enroll students. It also says that any one measure from a transcript can demonstrate that a student is ready for transfer-level coursework and that low performance on a given measure should be offset by higher performance on another measure. For example, if a student earned a low GPA but performed well in their math courses, that would be sufficient reason for them to enroll in transfer-level math.

The law also clarifies that colleges cannot make students repeat coursework that they have already completed in high school or college.

The bill has a wide swath of supporters including student organizations, the state Chancellor’s Office, advocacy groups like the California Acceleration Project and the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates.

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  1. Kimberly 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I'm a Community College Counselor. This article is one-sided and makes the assumption that counselors "place" students in remedial courses. Counselors take students' high school transcripts and chosen major into account and then present options to students, discuss the pros and cons for each option, and allow students to choose for themselves what they think is best for them. Also not all students seek counseling before enrolling in courses and students often self-select remedial courses. … Read More

    I’m a Community College Counselor. This article is one-sided and makes the assumption that counselors “place” students in remedial courses. Counselors take students’ high school transcripts and chosen major into account and then present options to students, discuss the pros and cons for each option, and allow students to choose for themselves what they think is best for them. Also not all students seek counseling before enrolling in courses and students often self-select remedial courses.

    This title is misleading and inaccurate; it is not against the law to offer these courses and even the bill stipulates that there can be exceptions to allow for remedial courses to be offered. Perhaps, you need a remedial English course to understand the difference between facts and fiction?! Or perhaps an ethics in journalism course?!

  2. Jessica Melvin 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The Chancellor's Office and the California Acceleration Project, have completely ignored the fact that not all community college students have high school transcripts. Students who have no formal education or who didn't complete high school should have access to remedial classes. Students who are returning to school after 10, 20, 30+ years should have access to remedial classes if they want to refresh their skills. Students should have choices. This bill would eliminate classes that … Read More

    The Chancellor’s Office and the California Acceleration Project, have completely ignored the fact that not all community college students have high school transcripts. Students who have no formal education or who didn’t complete high school should have access to remedial classes. Students who are returning to school after 10, 20, 30+ years should have access to remedial classes if they want to refresh their skills.

    Students should have choices. This bill would eliminate classes that many students desperately need to better their lives. It would disproportionately hurt the very students these groups claim to want to help the most. Additionally, this article is incredibly biased and poorly researched and fails to include any mention of the groups who are vehemently in opposition to these changes including faculty, counselors, students, and school employees (the people who actually work with students on a daily basis).

  3. Concerned faculty 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Faculty members are being pressured to pass students and inflate grades. Standards are lower. Are students passing English composition able to succeed in other writing intensive courses? When this is raised the student and advisors point to the passing grade in English. The instructor trying to uphold minimum standards is then the bad guy. Students and lawmakers would be happy to know that the solution is to minimize reading and writing requirements. Then everyone … Read More

    Faculty members are being pressured to pass students and inflate grades. Standards are lower. Are students passing English composition able to succeed in other writing intensive courses? When this is raised the student and advisors point to the passing grade in English. The instructor trying to uphold minimum standards is then the bad guy. Students and lawmakers would be happy to know that the solution is to minimize reading and writing requirements. Then everyone passes. These reports minimize what’s going on.

  4. Christopher Glaves 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I have taught Engineering and Mathematics courses in California community colleges for 33 years. My engineering students have included displaced workers who have been out of school for 10 years as well as young people from migrant farm worker families who never had consistent K-12 educational opportunities. These students have succeeded and become practicing engineers because they were given the opportunity to remediate in math while getting their general education completed. Throwing these students into … Read More

    I have taught Engineering and Mathematics courses in California community colleges for 33 years. My engineering students have included displaced workers who have been out of school for 10 years as well as young people from migrant farm worker families who never had consistent K-12 educational opportunities. These students have succeeded and become practicing engineers because they were given the opportunity to remediate in math while getting their general education completed. Throwing these students into transfer-level math (like Trig or Pre-Calculus) unprepared would have washed them out of the program within the first year. You cannot make up for years of missing or forgotten algebra knowledge with a co-requisite course while attempting the type of transfer level math leading to engineering courses.

    Most engineering courses require calculus. Calculus success depends on good algebra, geometry, and trigonometry preparation. You simply can’t build the plane while flying it. Even if the student “succeeds” in a first transfer level math course with a C grade, they are not prepared to succeed in calculus. Calculus success depends on strong prior math mastery. This can happen when the student is allowed the opportunity to take remedial algebra courses when they start college. I have seen it over and over.

    If someone can explain to me how to get calculus-bound students who need algebra help up to speed in math without remedial algebra courses I would love to hear it. Our students have not fared well with the co-requisite courses we have tried so far. And, these co-requisite courses suck up units and prevent them from taking other courses. They extend the time to graduate just like pre-collegiate remedial algebra courses, except they are not as effective for getting the students ready for calculus.

    I am open-minded and would love to hear ideas.

    Mind you, I am not advocating for students taking remedial algebra courses who are bound for Statistics as their terminal mathematics course, only those bound for STEM majors requiring Calculus who are Algebra deficient.

  5. Robert G 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Personally, if it were not for remedial courses, I would not have been able to succeed in transfer level classes. High school did not prepare me, and my math skills were at 8th grade level (early 90s). Thanks to lower level coursework, I was able to gain the knowledge and skills to accomplish my goals. I now have an MA from SJSU. I can understand some of the reasoning here, but this leaves … Read More

    Personally, if it were not for remedial courses, I would not have been able to succeed in transfer level classes. High school did not prepare me, and my math skills were at 8th grade level (early 90s). Thanks to lower level coursework, I was able to gain the knowledge and skills to accomplish my goals. I now have an MA from SJSU. I can understand some of the reasoning here, but this leaves many unprepared for transfer level work. The Pandemic has left two years of students behind in math performance and academic soft skills. What makes the CA legislature think that incoming freshman will magically be up to the challenge?

  6. Katie OBrien 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Firstly, as recounted in a Academic Senate for California Community Colleges article from 2019, Ms. Hearn's assertion that offering remedial courses is "illegal" is flat out wrong. To quote, "AB 705 neither mandated nor encouraged the discontinuation of remedial coursework in the California Community Colleges. Education Code §66010.4 requires colleges to provide remedial instruction for those students that need it. The new mandate of §72813 states that colleges “shall not require students to enroll in remedial … Read More

    Firstly, as recounted in a Academic Senate for California Community Colleges article from 2019, Ms. Hearn’s assertion that offering remedial courses is “illegal” is flat out wrong. To quote, “AB 705 neither mandated nor encouraged the discontinuation of remedial coursework in the California Community Colleges. Education Code §66010.4 requires
    colleges to provide remedial instruction for those students that need it. The new mandate of §72813 states that colleges “shall not require students to enroll in remedial English or mathematics coursework that lengthens their time to complete a degree unless placement research that includes consideration of high school grade point average and coursework shows that those students
    are highly unlikely to succeed in transfer-level coursework
    in English and mathematics”. https://asccc.org/sites/default/files/RostrumJuly19_MythsAround_AB705.pdf

    Secondly, no where does she or your article note that the success rate for students going directly into transfer level math with a 2.3 our lower, is 20%. Doesn’t that seem to indicate a student is “highly unlikely” to be successful? Most community college educators like myself welcomed opening up access to transfer level to all students who would choose it. To close off pre-transfer level options to students with a 1 in 5 chance of passing seems a disturbingly draconian development that will leave behind our most vulnerable students at a time when a worldwide pandemic has created increased learning gaps. Please provide a follow-up that contains a more accurate and balanced perspective on this crucial issue.

  7. SD Parent 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The CAASP scores make it clear that high schools are socially promoting students, especially in math. Until that practice stops, providing remediation math courses to community college students who need them is the best option for their long-term success. (Flunking a community college math course does not help a student transfer to a 4-year university. )

  8. Chris 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    This new law shows how out of touch our legislators are when it comes to education! The school system K-8 passes all students whether or not students actually mastered concepts or learned anything. When I entered community college in '92, I purposely took a lower remedial English class to fill in the missing holes in grammar and essay writing skills. I had wonderful math (purposely retook algebra too) and writing teachers and tutors at the … Read More

    This new law shows how out of touch our legislators are when it comes to education! The school system K-8 passes all students whether or not students actually mastered concepts or learned anything. When I entered community college in ’92, I purposely took a lower remedial English class to fill in the missing holes in grammar and essay writing skills. I had wonderful math (purposely retook algebra too) and writing teachers and tutors at the community college tutoring center!

    Give these young adults choices on the remedial classes. Don’t nanny state them! My choices to retake classes served me well, I transferred to a top university in my field (3.7 gpa) and am so grateful for my community college experience! After virtual learning, Covid stress, and the always pass everybody system, the average kid probably has a lot more holes in their knowledge. Just give them choices!

  9. Mike Freeman 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    None of this makes any sense. From my own personal experience, community colleges don't look at students' high school math grades for recommended course placement. They look at either entrance testing scores, which test the students' current abilities in math, or their SAT scores if the students took them. If those scores are low, it would make sense to recommend remedial classes. But even at that, what counselors recommend is just that - a recommendation. … Read More

    None of this makes any sense. From my own personal experience, community colleges don’t look at students’ high school math grades for recommended course placement. They look at either entrance testing scores, which test the students’ current abilities in math, or their SAT scores if the students took them. If those scores are low, it would make sense to recommend remedial classes.

    But even at that, what counselors recommend is just that – a recommendation. If the student wishes to take the lowest-level transferable math class instead, or even calculus if they want to really mess with their brains, they are free to make that choice. There doesn’t need to be a law about this at all.

  10. Rebecca E TRIPP 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The community colleges arw doing what they need to do to meet student needs. They are not unnecessarily placing students in pre-college level courses. They are allowing the students to take these classes because that is what they need. Many of the community college students have no intent on transferring and do not have the background to be successful in a college level math class. Many, if not most have only taken one year of … Read More

    The community colleges arw doing what they need to do to meet student needs. They are not unnecessarily placing students in pre-college level courses. They are allowing the students to take these classes because that is what they need.

    Many of the community college students have no intent on transferring and do not have the background to be successful in a college level math class. Many, if not most have only taken one year of algebra back in 8th or 9th grade yet college level math classes require two years of algebra. When CAP says the students are successful in transfer level, they are using faulty data. The students who are not successful are sent packing. Further the “college level” classes are not what they used to be. Many “college level” math classes are not being taught in the math department and do not even require any mathematical knowledge. Yet these students are being given degrees and sent out in the world completely unprepared for what lies ahead.

    The full effects of this bill will come back to bite us in a heard manner but unfortunately it will be too late for current students. I hope the students learn they are being sold a bill of goods and file a class action law suit.

  11. Hao-Nhien Vu 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Nothing like a reporter quoting verbatim without critical thinking from a lobbying group. There’s nothing objective about writing a headline accusing dozens of colleges of violating the law. Whatever your opinion on AB 705 and AB 1705, the fact is that no Edsource editors even stopped to think for a minute that no serious journalists ever go around accusing people of violating the law. That tells us something about said journalists.

  12. Robert L Crawford 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Thank God some schools have the integrity and intelligence to continue offering remedial math for those students who, rightfully, feel the need to take them. They are to be applauded for giving the students what they are begging for. Especially post-pandemic, many high school students did not receive much of a mathematics education, and this fact is missing from the research and statistics that the Chancellor's office is using to justify their draconian, illogical, racist, … Read More

    Thank God some schools have the integrity and intelligence to continue offering remedial math for those students who, rightfully, feel the need to take them. They are to be applauded for giving the students what they are begging for. Especially post-pandemic, many high school students did not receive much of a mathematics education, and this fact is missing from the research and statistics that the Chancellor’s office is using to justify their draconian, illogical, racist, and just flat out cruel stance on remedial math education. Hurray for these colleges!

  13. William Demarest 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    In the headline the author states, "California community colleges planning to offer remedial classes in violation of law." In the body of the article, the author states, "colleges are violating the intent of Assembly Bill 705." Violating a law and violating the intent of a law are very different things. That is the type of distinction the author may have learned in a pre-transfer level English course, which will, in fact, be outlawed by AB … Read More

    In the headline the author states, “California community colleges planning to offer remedial classes in violation of law.” In the body of the article, the author states, “colleges are violating the intent of Assembly Bill 705.” Violating a law and violating the intent of a law are very different things. That is the type of distinction the author may have learned in a pre-transfer level English course, which will, in fact, be outlawed by AB 1705.

    AB 705 is entirely about placing students in pre-transfer level math and English courses and the intent was never about eliminating these courses as an option for students who need them to achieve their educational goals. Next time, do your homework.

  14. Zeev Wurman 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    "Supporters of the bill say the strict rules are necessary because, in their view, counselors should have to use objective measures like high school grades when determining where to enroll students. " Objective measures ... like high-school grades. Right. As "objective" as the "intelligence" of our legislators. Why doesn't California give everyone a college graduation certificate together with the birth certificate? Seems much more efficient than what those "intelligent legislators" and "researchers of pure hearts" … Read More

    “Supporters of the bill say the strict rules are necessary because, in their view, counselors should have to use objective measures like high school grades when determining where to enroll students. ”

    Objective measures … like high-school grades. Right. As “objective” as the “intelligence” of our legislators.

    Why doesn’t California give everyone a college graduation certificate together with the birth certificate? Seems much more efficient than what those “intelligent legislators” and “researchers of pure hearts” have to sweat to produce meaningless research studies … oops “research studies” … and even more laws to make reality fit their ideology.

  15. Tim Melvin 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    AB 1705 makes it impossible for community colleges to offer any pre-transfer math classes. If passed, some students will benefit, but some students will be shut out of the community college system all together. I am the chair of the Math Dept at Santa Rose Junior College, and would be happy to talk to the reporter if he wants to write a more balanced article about AB 1705.

  16. George Laase 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    AB 1705 assumes that the grades received in high school are correct and never inflated. Grade inflation is rampant among high schools and is used to pass students through on schedule, so as not to upset the parents and to hide the fact that some students are not performing at grade level.

  17. Leslie Smith 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Scandal is pushing community college students to full-time to take out loans rather than part-time, working, debt free: @GavinNewsom‬⁩

  18. Leslie Smith 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    AB 1705 is insidious elitism focused on 5% that transfer, denying 95% of taxpaying adults an education. @GavinNewsom @NancySkinnerCA