Remedial courses axed

By Xavier Johnson, Web Editor

Sweeping changes are coming to English and math departments in an attempt to drive students toward completing transfer-level courses within their first year of college.
Signed into law on Oct. 13, 2017, Assembly Bill 705 mandates that colleges will “maximize the probability” that students seeking a degree will complete transfer-level English and math in their first year and English as a Second Language (ESL) students within three years.
Colleges must be compliant by fall 2019. According to the bill, failure to comply with the bill will affect eligibility for both College Promise and Guided Pathways funding.
English department co-Chairperson Elvia Ornelas-Garcia said one of the reasons for the legislation is that researchers looking at retention and persistence rates noticed when students start in developmental courses, they are less likely to complete the transfer course.
The first way to address this issue was implementing multiple measures and replacing the older method standardized assessments used to place students into courses.
Multiple measures use high school GPA to determine the appropriate English or math course for students to take first.
“Students were taking an assessment test that was telling them to take a course two levels below English 1A. However, when you look at their GPA, you see they were doing quite well in English in high school,” Ornelas-Garcia said.
According to the AB705 implementation memo, the data estimates that placement directly into transfer-level courses using multiple measures boosts students’ completion of those courses.
For students with a GPA above 2.6, their success rate of completing transfer-level courses within one year jumped to 80 percent from 40 percent.
According to the Student Success Scorecard, 40 percent of students go on to receive a degree or certificate in six years compared to 70 percent for students who enroll directly in transferable courses. For students coming into college on the lowest end of the spectrum, with a GPA of 1.9 or lower, their success, with additional co-requisite academic support, increased from 12 percent to 43 percent.
With students entering college and taking more advanced coursework, additional academic support will be required.
This will be especially important for students who previously would be taking lower level courses like English 142B or Math 118.
Both the Contra Costa College English and math departments are developing curricula to address the need for additional support. For English, a major change is the addition of English 1AX.
The 5- unit course will be an option for students to take instead of the standard 4-unit English 1A.
“1AX is the same course, but there will be more in-class support and the teachers will receive training on strategies to help students that are struggling such as Just in time remediation,” Ornelas-Garcia said.
Just in time remediation is a method of introducing developmental course material before they are needed during a high-level course — instead of a multi-semester approach.
An additional method of support that is being considered is using embedded tutors in English 1AX for students that need that help.
They also hope working with other departments will limit barriers to students’ success.
English department co-Chairperson Ben Jahn said the department also will need to work with counseling, Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS), and English as a Second Language (ESL) to make sure students access the right support.
“Students not passing is less about course material. Sometimes life just happens. Eliminate the barrier to taking transfer courses, because when life happens, it’s better to have to retake a transferable course than a non-transferable course,” Jahn said.
The math department is developing co-requisite courses to offer math content in a support role while students are taking Intermediate Algebra.
Additional changes to make students comfortable with college mathematics is adjusting the way a curriculum is presented.
Math department Chairperson Terrill Mead said, “A lot of what we are doing is contextualizing the course to give some concrete basis to the math they’re learning so it has more meaning to them. Part of our challenge is to bring it from being so abstract to making it more real.”
Alongside co-requisite courses, Mead said the department is looking at using embedded tutors and building a lab hour into some courses.
The implementation of AB705 has been met with uncertainty from the English and math department chairpersons due to the logistics of providing support to the increased number of students who will need it.
Ornelas-Garcia said, “I’m worried that we may not be able to serve all students. We will do our very best, but the department and college as a whole we need to create some safety nets for those students.”
She said she is concerned because CCC’s English department is the smallest in the district so accommodating the boost in students that need academic support will stretch the already understaffed department.
Jahn said, “The new bill might make a lot of sense. It allows students into English 1A and the data suggests that it’s fair and just. Will it play out that way? That will be determined on a college-by-college basis.”
The math department also is presented with the challenge of giving support to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students.
Mead said, “Most of our non-STEM students just want to get through their stats class. With STEM students, we need to make sure they are prepared for all their STEM coursework. So, we’re a little worried about how we’re going to make sure everyone knows it all.”
Mead and Ornelas-Garcia, both with 20 years of teaching experience, said they have seen the “pendulum” swing for and against developmental courses and this current move is in the right direction. However, the pendulum may have swung too far.
Ornelas-Garcia said she understands the need for a mandate because many students were not being assessed in a way that provided an accurate view of their skill sets. With full implementation not happening until fall 2019, it is unsure whether the mandate will help students.
Mead said, “We may be excluding the people who need to take lower level courses. We’re taking away that option. I’m worried we won’t have the support for them. As a statistics person I do see the argument.”