Until this year, all college students have had to take placement tests to see if they qualify for transfer-level courses. If their scores weren’t high enough, they would have to take classes before those classes, to catch up. This can set students up for failure.

Assembly Bill 705 is a new law that does away with this archaic practice and instead allows students to use their high school grades as an indicator of their knowledge in math and English — versus only placement test scores.

This is great news, because now students can go directly into the highest level of classes needed to transfer, saving time, energy and money. Most students can’t afford to take classes for years — just to get to the classes they need — in order to meet the requirements of a four -year university.

There was also a disturbing racial component to the old model of placement testing. Students of color were more likely to be put in remedial classes, making them less likely to graduate.  This suggests a systemic class/race issue within the education system.

The theory was that if students were placed in classes they weren’t ready for, they would drop out. It turns out that the opposite is true. Statistics show that when students are placed in high level classes, they actually succeeded significantly higher in those classes then remedial ones. It’s as if expectations delivered favorable results.

Karen Felts has been an English teacher for 27 years and is a full time English teacher at OCC.

“I am ambivalent but hopeful. I don’t want to play a part in a system that’s biased,” Felts said.

She teaches classes with 30 or more students in each class, and has criteria for what she thinks would help all students become more successful.

“If you were to ask the English department what they need, teachers would say five more dedicated English computer rooms, more tutors, extended library hours, and easy access to books. Studies show that when students take English in their first year of college, they do exponentially better in all areas.”

This is where it gets complicated. Administrators usually aren’t teachers, and have a different objective. Just because that is what teachers need doesn’t mean they are going to get it. A.B. 705 could potentially be the reason people go to college, or go back to college, but teachers also need more support within these newly structured classrooms.

Felts offers a tutor in her English 100 class, but almost none of the students taking the class knew that when they registered. There are some details that need to be worked out, but if the issues get resolved it could eliminate a lot of the obstacles that prevent students from being successful.

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