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Beginning next fall, California community college students will no longer be required to take an evaluative test for placement in math, English and English as a Second Language courses.

Assembly Bill 705 was approved by Gov. Jerry Brown in October as an effort to increase the number of students enrolled in transfer-level English and math. Under the bill, students will only be placed into remedial courses if it’s proved that they are “highly unlikely to succeed,” using a metric based on a student’s high school performance data such as GPA.

Some on campus question the real motive behind the bill, saying it is actually meant to save money on remedial education and get students through community college more quickly.

“I personally feel that for certain students this is actually a good thing but I’m not entirely sure that it’s good for all students,” Vice Chancellor of Educational Services and Technology for the Coast Community College District Andreea Serban said. “It depends on how long you have been away from school. The point is that not everybody is truly ready for college level English and math courses right off the bat.”

According to Serban, the main takeaway from the bill is that students can decide whether they want to take remedial classes. For those who are shown to be highly unlikely to succeed in the transfer level-courses, co-requisites, extra tutoring and supplemental instruction may be provided as added support.

For students who choose to take remedial classes, a timeline of a year will be given to reach transfer-level courses for English and math, while three years will be given to those enrolled in ESL classes, she said.

According to the original charter of community colleges from California’s Master Plan for Higher Education first adopted in 1960 and subsequently amended to reflect new legislation, California community colleges’ primary mission is to provide academic and vocational instruction for older and younger students. Additionally, among community colleges’ functions is listed an authorization to provide remedial courses.

The Orange Coast College English department received a memo in March, what Serban called a “directive,” providing specific guidelines for how the bill will be implemented.

However, some instructors are concerned with the implementation of AB 705 being reflective of students’ best interests. If students are given the choice to place themselves without counseling or assistance, they may not always select the course that will allow them to succeed, Michael Mandelkern, dean of Literature and Languages said.

Mandelkern said that in his multi-year career at OCC, he has never seen anything quite like AB 705.

According to OCC English instructor Donna Barnard, who has taught English 99, a below transfer-level remedial course for a variety of years, eliminating the course entirely is not a good idea, nor is adding an extra hour to English 100 to fill course gaps.

“Having a five hour per week course makes it difficult for students to schedule their other classes and could potentially be a financial burden,” she said in an email. 

Barnard added that it’s the English department’s goal to have the support students need for them to succeed. For now, the department’s plan is to keep some English 99 courses while the department completes its own research on how to best serve students.

The Math department at OCC is facing a different conundrum. Both math and ESL have yet to receive a memo from the California Community College State Chancellor’s office with guidance regarding the implementation of the bill, Serban said.

Math is currently in the process of evaluating two leading interpretations of the bill, one by the California Acceleration Project and the other by the Math and Quantitative Reasoning Task Force, which was formed in partnership with the Academic Senate of California Community Colleges.

While there has been research done on the topic to support the legislation, Serban said she is not sure how success rates will change when AB 705 is implemented.

“The problem is that if a student fails, you can repeat the course two more times, but those Ds and Fs count in the GPA, it lowers your GPA, and that may have a negative impact for those who want to transfer,” Serban said.

This potential negative impact would underscore the importance of providing co-requisite classes and supplemental instruction, she added.

“In the end, the impact is all on students and we hope that the impact will be positive. That’s the intent of the legislation. We will not know for sure until it happens and we will see how this is going to work,” she said.

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