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The Promise and Perils of Direct Placement Into Transfer-Level Courses

California's AB 1705 (2022) legislation and the corresponding Community College Chancellor’s Office guidance mandated that community colleges directly place students into transfer-level math and English courses rather than requiring stand-alone pre-transfer courses. The goal was to increase the number of students completing transfer-level requirements. A recent FACCC survey seeking qualitative data from students provides insight into how this policy change has impacted students taking math and English courses for the first time in community college.

First, approximately one-third of survey respondents completed their first transfer-level math course with an A, B, or C grade. Over half completed their first English course successfully. Direct placement allowed these students to bypass pre-transfer courses and make progress towards their degree. We celebrate these students and want to build on their successes.

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Equity, Choice, and the Community College Mission are Worth Our Advocacy

I consider myself a community college success story.  I began my journey at a small, rural, community college as a returning student and 37-year-old mother of two children (not unlike many of the students I have had in my classes).  I had decided to attend college to seek a degree in mathematics after having positive experiences volunteering in my children’s classrooms, where I was usually assigned to the math table.  Seeing the children’s faces light up when they understood a math concept in a new way got me hooked.

I was nervous when I took the first steps to enroll at my local community college.  I signed up for the placement testing and did better than I thought I might after years of primarily using math in a bookkeeping capacity.  I was actually excited that I could take Intermediate algebra, a class I had previously had in high school more than 20 years before.  Because I wanted to teach math, I did not want to miss the opportunity to understand the concepts (not just he algorithms I remembered) and I chose to enroll in Elementary algebra.  From there, I worked my way to transfer level math and, eventually, a degree in mathematics.

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AB 705 and Its Unintended Consequences

The rapid and extreme pendulum swing from the Basic Skills Initiative (BSI) that began in 2006 and culminated with the full implementation of Assembly Bill 705 in the fall of 2019 swept away advantages for a vast number of students, even as it has helped others. The unintended negative consequences of AB 705 could have been eliminated by blending the best of AB 705 and BSI together with common sense.

BSI created foundational classes that prepared students for higher math or qualifying tests like the ASVAB military test or TEAS nursing test, as well as satisfying other goals such as self-improvement and job advancement. Yet AB 705 focuses almost exclusively on increasing the number of transfer students.

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