For some students, testing into pre-college level math and English courses that are meant to better prepare them actually hinders their chances of obtaining a degree. For others, though, these courses are exactly what they need to fully grasp and pass college level courses later on.
So how should colleges proceed with these two conflicting student types?
The elimination of nearly all remedial English and math courses in California community colleges will go into effect in the Fall 2019 semester following the approval of Assembly Bill 705 last year. Remedial classes are defined as any classes below English 110 and math 114.
The bill states that although 75 percent of California community college students have been identified as underprepared for college level math and English classes, the majority of the students will be placed in these courses anyway to maximize the probability they will complete transfer-level coursework in English and math within their first year of enrollment.
It also states that the assessment tests used to determine a student’s abilities in math and English will no longer be used as the primary measurement, and instead their level of preparedness will be based upon high school coursework completed, grades and GPA.
We support the state’s effort to help students succeed through AB 705, however we believe that a modified middle-ground solution could be better for supporting all students, not just the ones affected by unnecessary remedial courses.
According to the Student Success Scorecard, 40 percent of student placed into remedial courses go on to complete a degree, certificate, or transfer outcome in six years. This is a small success rate compared to the 70 percent rate for students who enroll directly in college-level courses.
Two reasons the students in remedial courses have a lower success rate is because they face the financial strain of paying for more classes than they actually need to graduate, and studies have also shown that the longer a student is enrolled in college, the less likely they are to graduate.
This has disproportionately affected students of color and other disadvantaged students who are much more likely to be placed in these remedial courses, which is one of the driving forces for the bill’s implementation.
Many people have argued, however, that some students truly are underprepared and if they are placed in college-level math and English courses in their first semester they will be set up for failure, which can also result in them being discouraged from completing their educational goals.
This stems from a much larger issue, though. The bill’s report that 75 percent of students going into college are considered underprepared for math and English lends to the problem of California high schools being insufficient in their role of preparing students. Perhaps if the education system was stronger in K-12 schools, the majority of students would be ready and remedial courses wouldn’t be an issue in the first place.
For now, the school is planning on offering two-unit co-requisite classes specifically for extra support and help with the college-level classes, but this may not be enough. The support classes will be mandatory for those with poor high school grades and GPAs, and optional for the rest of the students.
The issue with this is if a student is required to take a four unit math course with a two-unit co-requisite, that student would be taking six units for a single class and then would have less time and energy to spend on other classes.
They also might fail the class because they were underprepared, even with the support class. This would result in the student having to pay for the class again, earning a low GPA early on and the having to delay their educational goals.
We believe the best solution would have been to eliminate the requirement of remedial courses, but still offer them to any students who are uncomfortable with taking college-level classes right away or want to be able to brush up on their skills without the fear of hurting their GPA in a college-level course.
AB 705 will help boost the success rates for many students who don’t need to be placed in remedial math and English, but those who do may suffer because of it.