Credit: Andrew Reed / EdSource

Arguing that too many community college students are getting stuck in remedial classes, California lawmakers are pushing a new bill that would create stricter rules dictating when colleges are allowed to enroll students in those courses.

Assembly Bill 1705 would build on Assembly Bill 705, the landmark California law passed in 2017 that says community colleges must allow most students access to transfer-level classes without first needing to take remedial classes, which are noncredit courses that can’t be used to transfer to a four-year university. Requiring students to take those courses has been shown to often derail them from completing an associate degree or pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

The new law, which has already cleared the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, would clarify that colleges can only enroll students in remedial classes under specific circumstances and must back up those enrollment decisions with data. For example, if a student pursuing a science degree had a low high school GPA and the college had data showing that students with similar high school grades fared well in the same major after taking remedial classes, that could be an acceptable reason to enroll the student in those courses.

In the absence of that kind of evidence, colleges would be expected to enroll students directly in transfer-level math and English classes. Supporters of the bill include the statewide chancellor’s office, many student organizations and Assemblymember Jose Medina, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. It is opposed, however, by the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, a statewide advocacy group that says the bill creates too many new rules and doesn’t allow counselors enough flexibility to do their jobs.

The proponents say the bill is necessary because counselors should be using data to determine where students should enroll, rather than relying on their own personal beliefs or implicit biases. They say the latter is happening at colleges where many students are still taking remedial classes even though they aren’t required to under the law.

In most cases, regardless of a counselor’s recommendation, the student makes the final decision on which course to take. Under AB 705, students can only be required to take remedial courses if a college can show they are highly unlikely to succeed in transfer-level coursework.

Overall, far more students are entering and completing transfer-level classes under the law. In fall 2020, 46% of first-time math students completed transfer-level math within one term, up from 24% in 2018, according to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California published in December. But that same report found that at 1 in 5 colleges, a third or more of students enrolled in remedial classes and that those students were disproportionately Black and Latino.

Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, the author of the new bill, said that kind of data was the impetus behind the bill. “In some colleges, they’re still being nudged toward remedial when they don’t need it,” Irwin said.

The newly proposed law specifies that colleges must rely on high school coursework, high school grades and high school grade point averages when determining how to place and enroll new students. The law also states that any one measure can demonstrate that a student is ready for transfer-level classes and that low performance on one measure should be offset by a higher performance on another measure. For example, if a student had a low grade point average in high school but received a passing grade in algebra courses, that could be sufficient evidence to enroll the student directly in a transfer-level math class, such as statistics or college algebra. The law would prohibit colleges from requiring students to repeat coursework that they’ve already completed in high school or college.

Requiring colleges to rely on those measures is a logical step, said Evelyn Martinez, a second-year student at East Los Angeles College who will be transferring to UCLA for the fall 2022 term.

Martinez, a sociology major who graduated from high school 12 years before starting in community college, enrolled directly in a transfer-level statistics course in 2020 when she first started taking classes at East LA College. But when she met with a counselor, the counselor recommended to her that she consider instead starting with a remedial class, saying that because Martinez had been out of school for so many years, she may need a refresher course.

Martinez added that the counselor didn’t cite any data or evidence indicating that enrolling in a remedial course would benefit her. Martinez wasn’t aware at the time of AB 705 but was still adamant that she should be enrolled in the statistics course, where she remained. But she worries about students who may not have as much conviction as she does.

“If they’re having these conversations with people who are not strong-willed like I am, I do feel like it might impact them, and they might be like, ‘Oh, OK, you’re right. You know, I’ll take this class.’ But then in the long run, it’s affecting the student, not the counselor,” Martinez said.

In the view of the faculty association, though, the new bill goes too far. Evan Hawkins, the executive director of the group, emphasized that the faculty association isn’t opposed to AB 705 and the reforms it introduced, but added that the latest bill is too “prescriptive.”

“There are a lot of additional rules that are written very clearly. Language about what counselors can or cannot mention, that’s at a level that’s just completely unnecessary from our perspective,” he said. “And it’s an overarching concern about how involved the Legislature should really be in what classes we’re offering or what best meets our students’ needs.”

Hawkins argued that, in some cases, students may benefit from taking remedial classes, such as an English student who takes a pretransfer-level writing course.

Irwin, the bill’s author, said the bill doesn’t intend to get rid of remedial classes completely and that she agrees that in certain circumstances, those courses may help students. But she added that recommending those classes should be limited to situations when a college has strong evidence, based on a student’s high school grades or performance, that taking the remedial class would improve their likelihood of eventually completing transfer-level coursework.

Irwin said she intends to collaborate with the faculty association in the coming months and hopes to gain its support as the bill makes its way through the Legislature. The bill would next head to the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee.

Irwin already gained a key ally in the Assembly when Medina, the higher education committee chair, threw his support behind the bill at a recent committee hearing.

“Students shouldn’t suffer by having to remain in community college for years and not being able to get out of remedial classes,” he said. “Community colleges need to do better for our students, especially for students of color. I support this bill. I support what the author is trying to do.”

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  1. Kyle Chang 3 months ago3 months ago

    Remedial education is a waste of time, money, energy, and resources in college!

  2. Kyle Chang 3 months ago3 months ago

    Remedial education is a waste of time, money, energy, and resources in College!

  3. Matt Karnes 4 months ago4 months ago

    I took those "remedial" courses at a community college thirty years ago and passed them. Then I took regular college math classes. Then I got a B.A. degree and went on to graduate school. I didn't have any problem with the "remedial" classes and, I can tell you, I use elementary algebra and geometry I learned in those classes more often than I use calculus and statistics. I think the argument for AB 705 and … Read More

    I took those “remedial” courses at a community college thirty years ago and passed them. Then I took regular college math classes. Then I got a B.A. degree and went on to graduate school. I didn’t have any problem with the “remedial” classes and, I can tell you, I use elementary algebra and geometry I learned in those classes more often than I use calculus and statistics. I think the argument for AB 705 and AB 1705 are a red herring.

    In California high schools, a math course takes two semesters of work; in class 5 days per week for about an hour a day with all the distractions of being in a high school with kids who have no interest in learning, who are only there to see their friends, because they are forced to be there, or to cause trouble. It is a horrible environment for a serious student. Until recently, a way to escape was for kids to sign up for classes at a community college while still in high school. I know about 100 who have done this in the last 3 years.

    At the community college a student can complete an entire year of high school math in one semester of the college’s “remedial ” math program. Say a high school freshman begins high school taking elementary algebra and at the same time signs up for the same course at a community college. By the end of the fall semester he has finished the elementary algebra requirement for high school. (The high school will still require him to complete the high school course because they don’t know what to do with a student who is a mismatch for their schedule. But let’s not worry about that for now.) So in the spring semester the student takes Intermediate algebra at the community college, and then, in the summer when the high school offers no classes this student takes another “remedial course,” geometry. Thus in one year at the community college the student has taken three years worth of high school math classes.

    All the high school has left for this student is a pre-calculus course, which he begins in the fall of his high school sophomore year. That means he doesn’t need to take any math classes at the high school in his junior or senior years.

    Needless to say, high school administrators hate this because they were planning on a certain number of students needing specific classes each year but now they need fewer math teachers and the math teachers they have are less happy because they have fewer good students to work with. And the teacher union hates it because it costs them jobs. Now, the teachers unions and the school administrators are trying to kill the surviving “remedial” programs at community colleges. But schools don’t exist for teachers and administrators. They exist for students.

    Because of AB 705 my son couldn’t find the math class he needed to take in his local Community College in San Jose but had to sign up for an online class being offered by a community college in Los Angeles. I thank God and those administrators for resisting the California Legislature.

    Thankfully, this summer is my son’s last “remedial” math class and he will be of high school a year early. He was supposed to start his senior year in fall 2022 but thanks to the ability to take “remedial” classes at the California community colleges, he is going to be free of high school and be a full time college student instead.

  4. George T. 5 months ago5 months ago

    They should keep the remedial classes and assign students to them but make it possible for students to test out of them. As a teacher, it is nice to have an objective standatd that you are preparing your students for. I'm afraid we are heading to a place where degrees from our public colleges will have less value than private colleges in the open market. If that happens, it will be a … Read More

    They should keep the remedial classes and assign students to them but make it possible for students to test out of them. As a teacher, it is nice to have an objective standatd that you are preparing your students for. I’m afraid we are heading to a place where degrees from our public colleges will have less value than private colleges in the open market. If that happens, it will be a cruel joke on our students. They will rightly blame us for not being more responsible earlier on and for succumbing to political pressure.

  5. Ian Colmer 5 months ago5 months ago

    This article says remedial courses are "noncredit," which isn't correct. Historically, remedial education in math and English has been for credit, but this credit was non-transferable. Noncredit courses are "an array of no-cost courses that help students reach their personal, academic and professional goals" (see the Chancellor's Office website). I know some colleges are now looking to create free noncredit courses to take the place of the for-credit remedial courses that AB 705 and AB … Read More

    This article says remedial courses are “noncredit,” which isn’t correct. Historically, remedial education in math and English has been for credit, but this credit was non-transferable. Noncredit courses are “an array of no-cost courses that help students reach their personal, academic and professional goals” (see the Chancellor’s Office website).

    I know some colleges are now looking to create free noncredit courses to take the place of the for-credit remedial courses that AB 705 and AB 1705 are targeting. Some proponents of these laws are concerned that, if this happens, students will be encouraged to take these noncredit remedial courses, delaying or derailing students’ transfer goals. Others think optional noncredit remedial education could be a good solution, perhaps for those who just want to learn and aren’t concerned about transferring to a university.

  6. Christine Soldate 5 months ago5 months ago

    Veteran students who have been out of school for many years can come back to school with rusty algebra and English essay writing skills. The community college should be able to offer coursework for that student to refresh the skills they need for transfer classes. Transfer grades are very important and if a student does not have a good GPA they may not get into the college they want to. How much tutoring does a … Read More

    Veteran students who have been out of school for many years can come back to school with rusty algebra and English essay writing skills. The community college should be able to offer coursework for that student to refresh the skills they need for transfer classes. Transfer grades are very important and if a student does not have a good GPA they may not get into the college they want to.

    How much tutoring does a student need to earn a good grade in a class that is transfer level if they have not studied math for ten years? This law takes away the way that community college helps student prepare for transfer and completion of AA degrees; no mandatory prep but keep the choices there for students who know they need the extra practice.

  7. Ed Gerber 5 months ago5 months ago

    The legislation does not recognize that too many high schools engage in social promotion and do not adequately prepare students for college.

  8. Dr. William Conrad 5 months ago5 months ago

    When are we going to address the abject failure of the K-12 system to educate the children? Root cause problem. No? 0% of English Learners and Students with Disabilities were proficient in Math for OUSD on the last state test. Beyond imagination!