The passage of AB705 (Irwin, 2017) fundamentally changed how colleges assess and place students into courses in mathematics, English, and English as a Second Language (ESL). Instead of using placement tests as a component of multiple measures assessment, colleges were compelled to use high school grade point average (GPA) as the multiple measures assessment. By fall 2023, based on data validation protocols determined by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), all colleges were required to place all students into transfer level courses with or without required support (with limited exceptions).
While some colleges found this transformation increased completion for first-time students enrolling in English or mathematics for the first time, other colleges struggled to implement the requirements of the law without having student success rates decrease. In the fall of 2020, Resolution F20 18.01  was adopted and it called for:
Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, in collaboration with system partners, write a paper on optimizing student success by evaluating placement in English, English as a Second Language, and mathematics pathways for consideration at the Spring 2022 Plenary Session.
Resolution F20 18.01 cites an ASCCC Guided Pathways Task Force (GPTF) paper titled, “Optimizing Student Success: A Report on Placement in English and Mathematics Pathways. ” The paper outlines recommendations for data elements that faculty should be involved in collaborative methods of analysis and in-depth study. The paper recommends questions that colleges should incorporate into local research questions to investigate the changes to placement in light of AB705. This present paper builds on some of the earlier recommendations made by the GPTF paper.
To develop a paper that would highlight successful implementation strategies and point out areas where colleges were still struggling, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) created the Data and Research Task Force (DRTF). The DRTF’s charge was to:
“...to respond to Resolution F20 18.01 and to assist local academic senates in using data effectively to improve teaching and learning. The DRTF will work to establish data-driven processes to evaluate and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in areas of academic and professional matters and leverage the Guided Pathways framework which includes data examination and exploration to improve educational programs and services to students. ”
To respond to Resolution F20 18.01, the DRTF developed three surveys (one each for mathematics, English, and English as a Second Language) that were distributed to colleges in early spring of 2022. Subsequently, the ASCCC Executive Committee approved the formation of the Data and Research Committee (DRC) whose mission is:
“…to assist local academic senates in using data effectively to evaluate educational programs and services to improve teaching, learning, and student success. The DRC will work with ASCCC Standing Committees, task forces, and other workgroups to establish and improve data-driven processes to advance inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism, and accessibility (IDEAA) in areas of academic and professional matters. The DRC may also conduct data analyses to assess the effectiveness of statewide issues and initiatives in areas of academic and professional matters.”
Among the responsibilities and goals of the inaugural DRC in the 2022-23 academic year was to continue the work of the DRTF and analyze and report the results of the DRTF surveys administered. Response rates varied, but the largest number of responses were received from faculty in the mathematics discipline. Because the surveys did not provide all of the information necessary for a position paper, the ASCCC Executive Committee decided to develop a series of resource (white) papers, beginning with equitable placement and enrollment into mathematics and related disciplines. The goals of this paper are to highlight the results from the surveys, indicate any promising practices that were shared, and to highlight areas where colleges are still struggling with imple-mentation that meet the needs of the students they serve.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Our survey results highlight that AB705 has shown some benefits towards improving access to transfer-level math courses, and streamlining math preparatory coursework for students who are most ready to succeed in math curriculum in a college setting. These findings are consistent with many of the other studies and reports on the effects of AB705.
Still, the impacts of AB705 on equitable achievement have been uneven across the state. The mission of the CCCs has been to be a source of higher education for all, especially for those from underprivileged academic backgrounds, those from disproportionately impacted populations in higher education, and those who are returning to school after a gap. To truly ensure that we are achieving equitable outcomes, we must continue to disaggregate data collection and analysis methods by race/ethnicity and other special populations. To that end, we offer the following recommendations:
- Refine the statewide definition of a first-generation college student to align with the more commonly applied definition of no parent with a bachelor’s degree. With the focus on transfer-level coursework seen in AB705, it is clear that defining a first-generation college student as having no parent with any college experience or an associate degree does not align with the transfer-focused curriculum current students are taking. We also recommend that our system collects and presents data on first generation students in Data Mart and the Transfer Gateway Completion Dashboard.
- Work with IRPE staff and offices to improve and implement methods of data collection, and develop local processes for faculty to be able to access data. Faculty are more likely to respond positively when they are able to access their own data and use the data to improve their own work, rather than having another entity present the data along with the message that faculty need to improve.
- Include qualitative data from faculty, student services, and students in continuing analysis. Qualitative data can be obtained from classrooms and offices. The preliminary reports focusing narrowly on throughput numbers statewide without consideration of specific colleges’ challenges, and/or without disaggregating the data have elicited strong negative reactions from some faculty. These faculty report the challenges of watching disproportionate numbers of special population students struggle through higher-unit corequisite courses along with a transfer-level course. They report seeing negative impacts on equity, inclusion, and representation in B-STEM disciplines.
- Provide venues (time and space) for front-line instructional and student services faculty and classified staff to share with college leadership in the academic senate and administration. Allowing practitioners to have agency in finding the best ways to support students fosters buy-in and ultimately success of innovations.
As noted previously, there are many studies and data sources available to examine the effects of AB705 through the lens of throughput. There are also ways to disaggregate those data by student demographics and to a certain extent their educational background. We noticed in our survey that some respondents are from colleges or districts that do not or cannot disaggregate the data further to look at the impacts beyond what is required for compliance purposes. To the extent that is possible, we recommend continuing to (or develop processes to):
- Assess student success and learning in sequenced curriculum, program completion, and transfer.
- Collect data on access and completion gaps in B-STEM disciplines.
- Monitor college-wide impacts of AB705 on other disciplines and course-taking patterns. Compare synchronous and asynchronous online outcomes because most colleges have increased their online instruction offerings since 2020.
- Expand the data collection methods to monitor student retention both before and after census date and analyze results for before census to see if there are correlations to student persistence and success.
- Disaggregate data to identify whether populations of students who drop, withdraw, are granted excused withdrawal, or earn substandard grades (D/F/W/NP) are less likely to re-enroll in a math class and/or re-register for college in subsequent semesters.
- Look for the impacts of substandard grades on student probation and on financial aid eligibility, and consider whether losing eligibility for financial aid or getting on academic probation are barriers to student persistence.
- Study the impacts of reduced course options to meet GE or transfer in math/quantitative reasoning on student enrollment, persistence, and program completion or transfer.
- Importantly, academic senates must feel empowered to formulate research questions related to equitable placement, access data to address those questions, analyze those data, and engage in broad college-wide conversations to implement evidence-based changes towards continuous improvement.
These last several years, we have seen many legislative impacts on curriculum. We need to send clear messages to the community about the differences between college-level work and high school work. More importantly, we need to continue to emphasize to our students and the communities we serve that though there are changes to our curriculum, the community colleges are here as open access institutions of higher education, and we still see achieving educational and social equity as a core value of our institutions.
Higher education general education patterns have historically been criticized because there is the perception that the coursework was already completed in high school. This same line of thinking has now been applied to math curriculum beyond the general education curriculum, and we are seeing various outside groups challenge higher education for requiring students to “repeat” courses leading up to calculus. The pace of learning and the skills necessary to be successful are fundamentally different in high school compared to college, and they need to be. College develops critical thinking, problem solving skills, and seeks to promote agency as we hope to produce students who will be leaders who will be able to make good decisions and empower others to also make good decisions.
When students come to our institutions, they come with the expectation that we provide a unique experience that expands on their prior learning. Higher education was founded largely to advance the privileged, those who were most likely to have good academic foundations right out of high school, and the time and means to afford a college education. Community colleges exist as a mechanism for achieving social equity and promoting social mobility, and we need to recognize that the students we serve are not all from educationally or economically privileged backgrounds. Therefore, it is our responsibility to provide the education students need to be successful in our colleges and beyond.