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California Community College Remedial Placement Addressed
Community Colleges

Legislation from Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (AD-44) is expected to be considered by the Senate Education Committee this week. Assembly Bill 1705 will address remedial placement policies at California’s community colleges and help more students to achieve their educational goals. The bill unanimously passed the Assembly last month.

AB 1705 builds off AB 705 (Irwin), a groundbreaking 2017 law that requires the state’s community colleges to recognize high school coursework instead of relying on inaccurate and inequitable placement tests. It also requires that students be placed into English and math classes where they have the greatest chance to make progress toward a college degree.

“When I started at City College of San Francisco, I was placed into remedial math classes,” said Angelica Campos, President of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. “I struggled in these classes and this eroded my confidence. Even after AB 705, counselors continued to push me towards remedial classes, saying that ‘this was the path I was on.’ This delayed my progress towards my goals for years. Unfortunately, my experience is all too common at our community colleges. That’s why the Student Senate for California Community Colleges – which is the official voice of 1.8 million students – strongly supports this bill.”

AB 1705 is supported by a diverse coalition of higher education equity, research, civil rights, social justice, and student leadership organizations. Some of the many entities supporting the bill include the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, BLU Educational Foundation, the California EDGE Coalition, CCHALES Research Collective, Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE), Growing Inland Achievement, and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

In tandem with AB 1705, Assemblymember Irwin is also advocating for one-time funding to be included in the California state budget. Supporters note that most of the changes required by the law can be accomplished by reallocating existing funds from remedial courses to transfer-level courses. However, the one-time funds would support colleges to transition to new practices, such as expanding tutoring, developing corequisite models of remediation, and providing professional development to help faculty effectively teach a broader population of students in transfer-level classes.

“AB 705 represented the beginning of a mindset shift in California towards the belief that all students can succeed, often beyond the limits that they put on themselves,” said Laura Hope, Associate Superintendent of Instruction and Institutional Effectiveness at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga. “AB 1705 represents the next phase of this shift and is necessary to make sure these policy reforms are meaningfully implemented.”

Prior to AB 705, the vast majority of California community college students were denied access to transferable, college-level English and math courses. Eighty percent of incoming students started in remedial classes that cost time and money but did not earn credit toward a bachelor’s degree. AB 705 changed this by restricting colleges from requiring remedial courses.

After AB 705 became law, there was a dramatic and unprecedented increase in students completing their classes at the state’s community colleges. Student completion of transfer-level courses increased from 49 percent to 67 percent in English and from 26 percent to 50 percent in math statewide (2015-2019). This amounts to more than 41,000 additional students who completed transfer-level English and more than 30,000 additional students who completed transfer-level math than before the law (2015-2019).

Yet despite the evidence that changing placement policies benefits students, many of California’s community colleges have yet to implement the changes mandated by AB 705. As of fall 2020, only a handful of colleges had achieved 100 percent implementation of the law. A just released report from the California Acceleration Project also shows that while some progress has since been made, a sizable number of community colleges plan to continue offering remedial classes in fall 2022. This is despite not having data to show that enrolling students in these classes meets AB 705 standards. This demonstrates the clear need for AB 1705 to further clarify how these reforms should be implemented.

In particular, community colleges have continued to devote substantial resources to remedial math, despite evidence that these classes do not meet the AB 705 standard of maximizing student completion.

AB 1705 provides clarity and additional guidance to help ensure all California community college students benefit from the success of AB 705. This legislation makes clear that colleges must enroll students in math and English classes where they have the greatest likelihood of completing degree and transfer requirements; clarifies that colleges should not require students to repeat math and English classes they passed in high school; provides greater protections to ensure that students are not required to take extra math and English courses that don’t count towards their degree requirements; and clarifies that it is the responsibility of colleges to ensure that students have supports that help them make progress toward their goals.