Dozens of California community colleges plan to offer remedial classes in violation of law, report says

Mikhail Zinshteyn/EdSource

Instructor Joe Gerda during a lecture in his statistics class at College of the Canyons, a community college in Santa Clarita.

At least a third of community colleges in California are still unnecessarily enrolling students in non-credit remedial math classes — a practice that could end if new state legislation is enacted, according to a new analysis.

At 38 of the state’s 115 degree-granting community colleges, students with good academic standing are enrolled in remedial math classes, according to a report released Monday by the California Acceleration Project, a group advocating the elimination of classes. of catch-up. This fall, these colleges are among 47 colleges that plan to continue offering remedial courses, which cannot be used for a transfer to a four-year university.

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

According to the report, none of those 38 colleges could justify their intention to continue offering remedial math classes. All colleges “inappropriately allowed several groups of students with good high school results to enroll in remedial classes,” the report said. The California Acceleration Project considered students to do well in high school if they had at least a 2.3 GPA or a 2.6 GPA, depending on their math background. A student with a lower GPA could also be considered high achiever if they took precalculus in high school.

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

Critics of remedial education say that by law these courses should not be offered at all or offered only in very limited circumstances. They also say the problem would be solved with Assembly Bill 1705, a proposed law that builds on AB 705 by creating stricter rules dictating when colleges are allowed to enroll students in classes of catch-up. The legislation has already been approved by the state Assembly and is expected to be reviewed by 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 doing their jobs.

Proponents of the bill say tough rules are needed because, in their view, counselors should use objective measures such as high school grades to determine where to enroll students. Otherwise, supporters of the bill worry that councilors will rely on their own personal beliefs or implicit biases when making these decisions.

Katie Hern, co-founder of the California Acceleration Project, said it’s “a flagrant violation of AB 705 when colleges continue to enroll students in remedial classes despite their high school GPA should place them in transfer level classes”.

Remedial classes have been shown to often prevent community college students from completing their studies and transferring, a trend that was a key driver of AB 705 adoption in 2017. Research has also showed that students would be much more likely to take transfer-level courses. within a year if they were allowed to enroll directly in these classes.

Groups like the California Acceleration Project have questioned whether all colleges are complying with this law, since many are still offering remedial classes. Last fall, the state chancellor’s office sent a memo to all colleges asking them to fully implement the law by this fall. “With some exceptions, this means that by fall 2022, all new and continuing U.S. high school graduate students in certificate, diploma, or transfer programs will be placed and enrolled in a English and Mathematics/Quantitative Reasoning transfer level. the chancellor’s office wrote in the memo.

The chancellor’s office also asked colleges last March to submit reports detailing their plans for remedial courses.

In the study released Monday, the California Acceleration Project analyzed these 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 remedial classes and will instead enroll all students directly into classes transfer level. At most colleges, students will have the option of taking transfer-level courses by concurrently enrolling in associate courses, which offer additional support such as tutoring for transfer-level courses.

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

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

Still, more needs to be done for all colleges to be fully implemented, Hern added.

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

Like previous 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 harder for these colleges to enroll students in remedial courses. The law specifies that colleges must rely primarily on high school transcript data to determine where to enroll students. It also states that any measure on a transcript can demonstrate that a student is ready for transfer-level courses and that low performance on one measure should be offset by higher performance on another measure. For example, if a student had a low GPA but did well in their math classes, that would be reason enough for them to enroll in transfer-level math.

The law also specifies that colleges cannot require students to repeat courses they have already taken in high school or college.

The bill has a wide range 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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