OP-ED: Ensure AB705 compliance to make college more accessible

Source: Los Angeles Daily News

I grew up in Mississippi, the daughter of a civil rights attorney. And as a longtime California resident, former math major, and parent, I’ve been concerned about how many community college students — especially students of color and low income students — have been labeled “unprepared” for college and required to take remedial math and English.

Remedial classes have never lived up to the promise of helping students be more successful. Among students taking remedial English or math, only 41 percent would transfer or complete a degree in six years, compared to 70 percent of students not required to take those classes. Further, placement into remedial classes has been shown to be the largest single driver of racial achievement gaps in college completion.

I’m encouraged to see that things are changing. Thanks to a new law (AB 705), California community colleges can no longer arbitrarily require students to take classes that cost time and money but don’t count for a college degree. Instead, the law requires community colleges to use high school grades and/or coursework to make more accurate placement decisions, and it gives students the right to begin in classes where they have the greatest likelihood of completing transferable, college-level courses.

But a new report shows that too many colleges are still clinging to old remedial structures that don’t serve students, especially in math. Getting There examines AB 705 implementation at 47 colleges, including 33 colleges in greater Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. The report found that remedial courses still account for nearly one-third of the colleges’ introductory math offerings, with 21 colleges offering more than 30 percent remedial math. This is especially troubling at geographically isolated colleges, where students can’t simply drive to another college down the road.

There are some bright spots, including Victorville’s Victor Valley College and Glendora’s Citrus College, where remedial classes constitute less than 10% of the introductory courses offered in both math and English. Pasadena City College — featured in our recent Education Equity Forum — has eliminated all remedial classes in both math and English.

Research shows that these changes will have a significant impact on student completion, a goal that should be all colleges’ top priority. Choosing to continue offering remedial classes goes against research showing that all students — even students with the lowest grades — are two to three times more likely to complete transferable, college-level requirements when they start directly in these courses.

I am especially concerned about the potential for implicit bias in which students are perceived as “college material” and steered toward higher level courses, while others are counseled toward remedial classes without understanding the damage it will do to their long-term goals.

When the evidence is so overwhelming that remedial courses derail students from their dreams, it is a misuse of public funds to keep offering these classes. And with nearly half of the colleges in the report offering more than 30 percent remedial math courses, you can get a sense of the scale of this misuse.

I’m going to keep pushing our community college leaders and trustees to ensure that spring 2020 course schedules aren’t packed with remedial classes. And I encourage our legislature and Community College Board of Governors to closely monitor AB 705 compliance and take steps to close the loopholes through which colleges are ignoring the true spirit of the law.

California students deserve to begin college in courses where they have the greatest chance of completion, and it’s critical that the entire community college system begin to treat this core standard as their North Star.

Elisha Smith Arrillaga is Executive Director of The Education Trust-West, a research and advocacy organization focused on educational justice and supporting the high achievement of all California students.





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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.