Assembly Bills 705 (Irwin, 2017) and 1705 (Irwin, 2021) have reduced or removed student access to foundational courses that may significantly strengthen their overall college success, raising important questions as to whether all community college students enter their courses with the same resources and educational privilege. These assembly bills have challenged and will continue to challenge faculty to continue their work toward supporting student success. The California community colleges educate a large and diverse student population. Advancing student equity requires understanding students’ individual needs and supporting faculty and colleges to develop a variety of strategies to meet the unique needs of all students. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) has consistently advocated for local innovation and flexibility in implementing AB 705 and AB 1705.
The delegates to the Fall 2020 Plenary Session passed Resolution 18.01 F20, which asked the ASCCC to “write a paper on optimizing student success by evaluating placement in English, English as a Second Language (ESL), and mathematics pathways.” Recognizing that the curriculum in these disciplines is very different, the ASCCC Executive Committee voted in November 2022 to write separate papers focusing on optimizing placement in English, ESL, and math individually. The first paper will focus on math placement, and it builds on the ASCCC’s 2020 white paper Optimizing Student Success – An Academic Senate White Paper.  Subsequent papers will be produced on English and ESL placement.
In preparation for writing these papers, the ASCCC Data and Research Task Force (DRTF) was established in 2021-22. The DRTF laid the foundation to write the papers by designing surveys on English, ESL, and math placement and outcomes in Spring 2022. These surveys were distributed to ASCCC listservs. In 2022-23, the Data and Research Committee began looking at the survey data. The survey responses represent a sample of colleges across the state, and the responses reflect the diverse curriculum and placement practices in English, ESL, and math.
Each survey asked about what faculty need to support student success in the classroom in light of the legislated requirements for student placement. Regardless of the discipline, the answers largely converged on a few commonalities. The most frequent response called for more embedded tutors and supplemental instruction in English, ESL, and math courses. Faculty at all colleges have worked to find ways to support student learning, including corequisite courses, expanded tutoring, and embedded tutors in classrooms. These support strategies are being implemented individually or in combination. Survey responses reported that where colleges use embedded tutors in courses, not all course sections have embedded tutors, resulting in discrepancies in the educational experiences of students. The impact of the legislation on curriculum resulted in many calls for smaller class sizes to provide more individualized attention to help student learning. Some responses called for support in continued discipline-centered plans to redesign curriculum along with sustained financial and time resources to support faculty professional development.
Faculty also noted the importance of more active learning strategies, especially in courses that now have additional in-class hours in the form of corequisite content. To support active learning and more individualized instruction, faculty called for redesigned classroom spaces. Recognizing that the shift to remote instruction during the pandemic highlighted equity gaps in access to technology, respondents called for students to have increased, improved, and equitable access to technology both in the classroom and at home.
A final common point was the need to include and support the part-time faculty who teach a large percentage of the classes as they redesign their courses to meet the legislated requirements.
Survey responses highlighted a need to strengthen relationships with counseling, support staff, and administration. These relationships increase college-wide awareness of changes in curriculum and the need to monitor student success throughout the semester and through the students’ educational journeys. Although the primary impacts of AB 705 were on curriculum, many students now find themselves in English and math courses with corequisites now requiring more classroom time spent on a single subject. Part-time students who might have previously taken fewer units may now be taking more units. Relationships with counseling will help guide students in choosing their courses, and as the term progresses, counselors can support students if they should begin to face challenges. Survey responses called for embedding counselors in courses, recognizing the benefits of having ready access to a counselor who can provide academic and personal resources to students as needs arise. As student support structures evolve, all faculty must know where to get assistance and where to send their students for assistance.
As colleges work to implement AB 1705, they must continue to develop innovative curriculum to support student success. Responses to the ESL survey noted the possibility for cross-disciplinary discussions with English faculty as students transition from one course sequence in the ESL discipline to the English sequence. In English, survey responses called for more specialized corequisite or supplemental instruction to work on topics such as information literacy, grammar, and reading. Math survey responses called for additional in-class or out-of-class time to support basic skills development and practice concurrently with the concepts being taught in transfer-level courses. To support success through a math sequence, particularly in business and STEM majors, faculty responses indicated a need to provide students with continued support in courses beyond the introductory transfer level.
Although AB 705 and AB 1705 have direct impacts on math, English, and ESL, faculty in all disciplines must continue to monitor student access and success. More broadly speaking, faculty should ensure that their colleges prioritize equitable access to higher education. All of these changes will require a careful balance of curricular and student support innovations along with data collection. Successfully serving students will require that colleges share innovative strategies to meet the individual needs of their students with regard to math, English and ESL and help the students begin their college journeys by acquiring the collegiate skills necessary for success in all courses. These statewide responses may help support local discussions about innovation and data collection in departments, curriculum committees, and academic senates and with colleagues in administration.
1. Optimizing Student Success – An Academic Senate White Paper is available at https://asccc.org/papers/optimizing-student-success-academic-senate-white-paper.