Let’s complete the landmark remedial education reform and deliver on our promise

Credit: Wadi Lissa on Unsplash

Robotics students at Glendale Community College in Glendale, California.

California community colleges are leading the way with historic reform to end a legacy of gatekeeping that has held back nearly all students, especially students of color.

Just 10 years ago, 85% of California community college students were forced to start remedial courses that don’t provide credit toward a degree or transfer, and too often didn’t lead to the completion of critical math and English courses.

The state took a bold step five years ago to transform remedial education by requiring community colleges to abandon placement tests, which were poor predictors of college performance, and take a more holistic look on courses, grades and general average of high school students by placing students in their first courses.

The goal was to follow the evidence and support the dreams of more students by starting their educational journey directly in college-level English and math, rather than forcing them to retake courses they had already successfully completed in high school.

We’ve made extraordinary progress: completion of one year of transfer-level courses increased from 49% to 69% in English and from 26% to 57% in math, from fall 2015 to fall 2020 , with substantial increases in completion for all students. Additionally, in the vast majority of our colleges, all or nearly all students are now starting transfer-level courses in English and math.

Research shows that concurrent support, where students start in college-level courses while gaining additional support, is superior to having students take remedial courses that have too often been shown to hinder student progress. students rather than helping them.

Across California community colleges, this change helps tens of thousands of students each year. This transformation improves their lives through education while accelerating their progression towards a degree. And by unleashing their talent, it boosts the state’s economy.

Transforming remedial education is hard work and requires sustained investment and commitment to fidelity in implementation. A growing number of faculty are asking for support for this work and their efforts to develop innovative approaches and new pathways for students, as they see the positive impacts for students. Leaders like Julianna Barnes, who most recently served as president of Cuyamaca College before becoming chancellor of the North Orange Community College District, said all Cuyamaca students have the opportunity to take college-level math and English courses.

“You know what we say to our students? It’s that they have the ability to do this job,” Barnes said.

This progress must be recognized and accelerated.

The remedial education reform is one of the most significant civil rights reforms in higher education in recent years. Legislation currently awaiting signature by the Governor, Jacqui Irwin, D-Camarillo’s Assembly Bill 1705, who authored the original bill that set these reforms in motion, clarifies and solidifies the framework underpinning this change history that unlocks the true potential of students. He deserves strong support.

Let’s not forget what is at stake and what this transformation will mean for generations of Californians. Beginning in the 1960s, the state opened up college access in California and across the country. But as public colleges admitted more non-white, non-elite students, they also created remedial education systems that unfairly hunted down and weeded out talented students.

The result was that millions of students who were, in fact, able to succeed started college being told they weren’t college material and, to access their education, they were placed inaccurately in long remedial sequences based on assessments that were not really related to performance in English and math classes. Most got discouraged and left without a diploma.

We cannot afford to go back to that time.

The state has come at a crucial moment in this historic reform movement. With continued commitment, we may soon be able to deliver on California’s promise to no longer exclude any student from higher education, instead helping all Californians succeed in achieving their dreams and goals at California community colleges. .


daisy gonzales is acting chancellor of California Community Colleges, the nation’s largest higher education system with 1.8 million students.

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