Other Voices: Assembly Bill 705 at Foothill-De Anza

Under the leadership of California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, “Vision for Success” is a bold initiative by the California Community Colleges to better meet California’s needs for increased higher education attainment and workforce development.

Among the six ambitious goals in the initiative to be achieved by 2022:

“Over five years, decrease the average number of units accumulated by CCC students earning associate’s degrees, from approximately 87 total units (the most recent systemwide average) to 79 total units.” (Associate degrees typically require 60 units. Foothill-De Anza is on the quarter system, which requires 90 units, so our goal would be 120 units completed on average.)

“Reducing the average number of units-to-degree will help more students reach their educational goals sooner, and at less cost to them,” according to the initiative. “It will also free up taxpayer dollars that can be put toward serving more students.”

A key mandate for action to realize this goal is Assembly Bill 705, which took effect Jan. 1. The bill requires that a community college maximize the probability that a student will enter and complete transfer-level coursework in English and mathematics within a one-year time frame and use one or more of the following factors in placing students into English and math courses: high school coursework, high school grades and high school grade-point average. Before AB 705, most colleges relied more heavily on a standardized assessment test to determine course placement.

AB 705 was written to clarify existing regulation and ensure that students are not placed into remedial courses that may delay or deter their educational progress unless evidence suggests they are highly unlikely to succeed in the college-level course. Assessment instruments and placement policies have serious implications for equity, as students of color are far more likely to be placed into remedial courses, and students placed into remediation are much less likely to reach their educational goals.

Evidence suggests that community colleges are placing too many students into remediation and that significantly more students would complete transfer requirements in math and English if enrolled directly in transfer-level English and math courses. Research suggests that when used as the primary criterion for placement, assessment tests tend to under-place students and that a student’s high school performance is a much stronger predictor of success in transfer-level courses.

I am so proud that Foothill and De Anza are not waiting for the fall 2019 deadline to implement AB 705 but are proceeding to put these new practices into place in one or more disciplines as of fall quarter 2018, which began Sept. 24. Our faculty is particularly worthy of praise for restructuring the pathways to transfer-level work so that students who did well in high school are not directed into multiple preparatory courses that do not yield transfer-level credits. Our faculty is motivated less by compliance but much more by removal of barriers to student aspirations.

At Foothill, the required number of units for the AB 705 pathways has been reduced from 15 to 7 in English composition and from 25 to 10 in mathematics, and at De Anza, from 25 to 10 in English composition and from 20 to 5 in mathematics.

We will assess the efficacy of our revised practices over the coming year and will deem them successful if we see an increase in retention and completion, particularly for our underrepresented populations.

Judy Miner, Ed.D., is chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

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