In 2017, when Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, introduced Assembly Bill 705 – a bill insisting that colleges allow students access to transfer level unless they are deemed highly unlikely to succeed in these courses – I argued.
My English department at Solano Community College was one of the first schools to adopt these reforms in the state; we had seen the power of student choice and access. It was clearly a time when legislation was justified, when representatives of the people had to tell us, as educators, to radically change course.
And the data proved people right: we were forcing nearly 80% of our students to take basic skills courses before enrolling in a transfer-level English or maths course, and most got stuck there, without even having the opportunity to try a class. this would count towards a degree or transfer. And the tragedy is that the vast majority did not need these courses. Since AB 705 became law and pushed colleges to let students decide for themselves whether to take transfer-level courses in math and English – with extra help available if needed – the number of students entrants who have successfully completed transfer level math and English has increased significantly. .
I am so proud of the students, teachers, and advocates who fought for this, who were willing to consider the possibility that their well-meaning support efforts had, in fact, hurt the students more than they helped them. And I am proud and grateful to the many colleagues across the state who were skeptical but worked so hard to ensure their students’ success in this new environment.
However, I believe Assemblyman Irwin’s current bill, Assembly Bill 1705, goes too far, implying more success than our reforms have actually achieved.
The previous model forced students to take remedial classes they didn’t need, which delayed or derailed too many dreams, but if this bill passes, we’ll have a new problem; students who need the courses to achieve their dreams will not be allowed to take them. As the old AB 705 system ended, this new bill would ultimately deprive the individual of choice and smack of bureaucratic paternalism.
The new bill sets an impossible standard that will mean the absolute death of all pre-transfer level support to community college: Schools could only offer basic skills courses if attendance at those courses increases the statistical odds of completion of transfer-level math and English courses. during this year. If a guided self-placement system works as it should, less prepared and less confident students will be more likely to take a basic skills course than their more prepared and confident peers. And students who opt for basic skills courses will, due to greater social inequalities, be less likely to succeed in that year than members of their demographic group who chose the transfer level course. This does not mean that the basic skills class caused the poor performance or was not helpful, just that within a demographic group some students have more support and more self-confidence, which which will be reflected in course selection and eventual pass rates. .
Yes, we still need to do the work to address racial and class bias within our institutions, which certainly contributes to the disproportionately high number of black and brown students who voluntarily enroll in basic skills courses. But we need to solve this problem without taking away the support that so many adults think they need.
A student’s desire to enroll in basic skills courses is not always misguided. Not all students are successful in transfer-level courses, even with concurrent support. For example, at Solano College, nearly 50% of students who entered our new system with a low high school GPA do not pass our freshman English course. We have yet to identify a reliable path that will correct past educational trauma. We can rightly say that they may not have been successful under the old system either, but that’s not enough to say with certainty that concurrent support is the only legitimate support a community college should offer. to students, or that students should not be allowed to take a pre-transfer course if they believe it is in their best interests.
We’ve shown that the old model doesn’t work, but we shouldn’t claim to have found the solution. We need maximum space to innovate and correct ourselves. The problem is systemic, and the solution must be as well. AB1705’s unique divisive mandate confuses correlation with causation and distracts from the real work.
Joshua Scott teaches English at Solano Community College.
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