Update on Implementing New Mathematics and English Requirements

Chair, Educational Policies Committee

In the last couple of years we have provided you with updates and background on the front page of our website (www.asccc.org) about the implementation of the new minimum English and mathematics levels for the associate degree, which were adopted by the Academic Senate in Spring 2005 and approved by the Board of Governors in September 2006. By now, the colleges that previously did not have these levels should have made the necessary adjustments to their local requirements and ensured that their college catalog for next year has been modified. New students entering in Fall 2009 will be expected to achieve the new levels, while continuing students retain catalog rights.

The Academic Senate has provided many opportunities for implementation discussions at its institutes and sessions, as well as provided suggestions for ways to effect the changes locally, in a range of articles and presentations. But most importantly, the Academic Senate (under the creative leadership of then-president Ian Walton) joined administrators in the state's Chief Student Services Organization (CSSO) and Chief Instructional Officers (CIO) organizations to launch the Basic Skills Initiative, which has now touched almost every college in the state.

A resolution at the April 2006 Plenary Session called for the Academic Senate to conduct some research once the new requirements are in place:

9.03 Study of Impact of Higher Graduation Requirements on Students Spring 2006

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges research, document and report back to a future plenary session the impact of any implemented higher graduation requirements in mathematics and English on California community college students.

Since Spring 2006, the three Educational Policies committees have attempted to determine how to address this resolution. Members met with researchers in the Chancellor's Office and tried to lay out a plan to assess possible effects on students who will have a new requirement added at their college. However, discussions held both at the Executive Committee and in the Educational Policies committees have led to the conclusion that it is not feasible to complete what this resolution calls for. The committees determined that we could not conduct the statistical analysis and make the connections between the requirements and the students enrolled. Some factors in our conclusion include the following.

How can any causal connections be made between the requirements and student outcomes? And further, how can students be isolated to investigate before/after effects? Continuing students have catalog rights to previous graduation requirements. There are no identifying features that would remove them from the data and the differing requirements would also confound the data.

There was never a good time to gather baseline data from which to make a determination of the effects, and many colleges already had one or both requirements in place when the requirements were changed.

In addition, because colleges have implemented these graduation requirement changes over the last several years in anticipation of Fall 2009, the data collection has no hard and fast implementation date, except at local levels.

How can the effects of a requirement be separated from other factors such as student preparation or other college requirements? Many factors contribute to student success in math and English, and those factors are difficult to tease out of the equation so that we could study only the impact of the new requirements.

It is important to remember that the idea for the Basic Skills Initiative (BSI) was born out of the passage of the Academic Senate's resolutions calling for the change in mathematics and English.

This means that we may not have made the institutional improvements we see today had the faculty not raised the levels. The interventions in the last two years funded by this initiative have created changes in the college to help students to achieve success in basic skills and attain the new graduation requirements. These variables alone would contribute so many new and heretofore unidentified affects that assigning any conclusions would be very difficult.

The Spring 2006 resolution was adopted before the Basic Skills Initiative, and in some ways, the resolution may have underscored the need for us to ensure students have their best opportunities for success. Now, because of a huge investment of Academic Senate time and energy as well as the efforts by countless administrators and college staff, we have contributed more to enabling and ensuring student success than at any previous time.

What is needed now is for us all to ensure that the effective new strategies and institutional transformation begun under the BSI continue, and that the effective practices outlined in the literature review, Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges, as well as the Basic Skills Handbook (www.cccbsi.org) have every chance for success in our colleges. If each local academic senate maintains its focus on student success, then our students will not only achieve higher levels of writing and mathematics, but they may also realize greater success in their other courses and beyond the college doors.