The California Acceleration Project (CAP) is a faculty-led professional development network that started mobilizing community college faculty in 2010 to address systemic placement and remediation policies that were producing weak and racially inequitable English and math outcomes.
Grassroots reforms produced unprecedented gains in transfer-level math and English completion at participating colleges, with the greatest gains for Black and Hispanic students. However, after six years of widespread professional development work, these reforms had only reached about 10% of the state’s students (PPIC 2017, PPIC 2018). The unacceptable inequity in students’ access to effective reforms prompted CAP’s support for Assembly Bill 705 and later 1705.
AB 705 (Irwin 2017) is historic legislation that transformed placement and remediation in California’s community colleges. The law requires colleges to rely on high school grades for placement and restricts colleges from requiring remedial courses if these courses do not improve students’ timely completion of math and English requirements for transfer to a university. In the language of the law, the placement policies at a college must “maximize the probability that a student will enter and complete transfer-level coursework in English and mathematics within a one-year timeframe.”
Statewide research shows that one-year completion of transfer-level math and English is maximized when students begin in transfer-level courses instead of remedial ones (PPIC 2020).
During the first year of mandatory implementation (2019-2020), greater access to transfer-level courses produced large completion gains in English and math for every group examined, including Black and Hispanic students, low-income students, students with disabilities, STEM students with weaker math preparation, students over the age of 35, foster youth, and veterans. For most of these groups, completion of transfer-level math doubled. Overall, 67% of students completed transfer-level English in one year, up from 49% in 2015-2016, and 50% completed transfer-level math, up from 26%. The law has also led to more students enrolling in and completing math courses in Business, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (BSTEM), with noteworthy gains for Hispanic and Black students, who have been historically underrepresented in BSTEM majors (PPIC 2021).
In the first years of AB 705 implementation, most colleges created new placement policies that gave almost all students access to transfer-level courses in English and math. Some colleges ensured that students followed their AB 705 placement and enrolled in transfer-level coursework; however, many colleges undermined AB 705 by interpreting “placement” to mean “access” and not enrollment. These colleges continued to offer remedial options, particularly in math, and allowed or encouraged students to ignore their AB 705 placement and enroll in remedial courses.
Implementation was uneven and inequitable. Black and Latinx students disproportionately attended colleges that maintained large remedial math offerings. For example, colleges serving over 2,000 Black students were more than twice as likely to be weak implementers of AB 705 as other colleges. There were also significant regional inequities in implementation. (CAP 2020).
AB 1705 (Irwin, Medina 2022) clarifies issues hindering implementation of AB 705 (2017). This law
- Requires colleges to not only place students directly into transfer-level English and math courses but also ensure that students actually enroll in those courses,
- Requires colleges to provide access to academic support for students who want or need it,
- Allows colleges to require students to enroll in additional concurrent support if it is determined that the support will increase the student’s likelihood of passing transfer-level English or math,
- Specifies student groups that are exempt from default transfer-level placement and enrollment, such as students in adult education programs seeking a G.E.D.,
- Restricts colleges from requiring or recommending transfer-level math or English coursework that is not required for the student’s major or degree program unless there is evidence of specified benefit to the student.
- Remedial courses do not earn general education credit toward a baccalaureate degree but may satisfy associate degree requirements.
- Transfer-level courses earn general education credit upon transfer to a university.
- Completion of transfer-level courses is a ratio of the number of students completing transfer-level coursework in a given timeframe divided by the number of students enrolled for the first time in the discipline in a given term. Students beginning in remedial or transfer-level coursework are included. For example, if 200 students enroll in math for the first time in fall 2020, and 100 complete a transfer-level math course in one year, the completion rate is 100/200=50%.
- One-year completion of transfer-level English or math is measured from the student’s first enrollment in the discipline (as opposed to the student’s first year at the college) and includes students beginning in remedial or transfer-level coursework.