In the fall 2017 semester, almost 60 percent of incoming Santa Barbara City College students were placed in remedial math or English courses. Come fall 2019, however, that number will decrease drastically thanks to Assembly Bill 705, which largely prohibits community colleges from requiring students to enroll in remedial classes.
The bill, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017, is intended to “maximize the probability that the student will enter and complete transfer-level coursework in English and mathematics within a one-year timeframe.” It was introduced after evidence showed community colleges were placing too many students in remedial courses, hindering their likelihood of completion or transferring to a four-year college. According to the SBCC Student Success Scorecard, only 42.5 percent of first-time students in 2015-2016 completed a transfer-level course in math in their first two years at the college.
“Students coming in at below-transfer-level courses [for math] have close to a zero percent chance of transferring and receiving a bachelor’s,” said James Campbell, associate professor of mathematics and assessment coordinator at SBCC. “It’s shockingly low.” Campbell is on the school’s transition committee and is working to restructure SBCC’s math department to comply with AB 705.
Currently, incoming students are evaluated with state and local assessments and placement tests. However, these practices often force students to retake course material they successfully completed in high school, or the students are placed in classes at too low a level for their abilities. As a result, these students spend a prolonged time at the college, decreasing their likelihood of obtaining an associate’s degree or transferring to a four-year college. According to the SBCC scorecard, only 44 percent of the 2011-2012 freshmen who were enrolled in remedial courses completed a degree certificate or transfer-related outcome within six years.
Under AB 705, colleges will not be allowed to use placement exams to evaluate incoming students. Instead, colleges will look at a combination of students’ high school grades, grade point average, and coursework in determining where they will be placed. This new assessment method will place the majority of students directly into transfer-level courses.
In the math department, most incoming students will be enrolled into college-level algebra. Students who otherwise would have been placed into remedial courses will take a special section of the course paired with a corequisite support class. “[The support course] is designed to fill in the gap,” said Campbell, who described AB 705 as “an extremely radical change.”
In the English Department, students with varying abilities will be placed in the same section of English 110, a freshman transfer-level course. “It will change the way it’s being taught,” said English Department Chair Barbara Bell. “We have to rethink the pedagogy.”
“This will help close the achievement gap,” said SBCC Boardmember Craig Nielsen. Students of color and low-income students are disproportionately placed into remedial courses. Between fall 2012 and fall 2017, 46 percent of students placed in remedial courses at SBCC were Latinos, followed by 37 percent white students.
While the college will no longer be able to require students to enroll in remedial courses, SBCC will continue to offer optional developmental levels of English and math for students wary of jumping into transfer-level courses. “Our academic counselors will continue to work closely with students to guide their informed choices,” said SBCC spokesperson Luz Reyes-Martin.
“It’s about social justice,” said Campbell. “A lot of students will have access to levels of education they didn’t have before.”