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Governor Fast Tracks Remedial Education Reform In California Community Colleges

A Cuyamaca College student fills out a math worksheet, Aug. 28, 2017.
Katie Schoolov
A Cuyamaca College student fills out a math worksheet, Aug. 28, 2017.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a bill that will fast-track changes to remedial education in community colleges.

Research has shown the existing system to bring underprepared college students up to speed can actually hurt their chances of earning a degree. Individual community colleges have taken steps to solve the problem, and the California State University announced its own sweeping changes in August. The governor’s action rolls the reforms out statewide.

They include using high school grades instead of standardized placement tests to decide which classes students should take. Research suggests placement tests frequently “underplace” students, costing them money and delaying graduation. Assembly Bill 705 also prohibits colleges from enrolling students in remedial classes unless their high school coursework shows it is necessary.

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“Placement tests as the sole indicator for student placement put California’s students at a disadvantage,” said bill author Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, in a press release. “By allowing students to be placed based on the best of multiple measures, including high school coursework, we find that they rise to the challenge and transfer or start their careers more quickly.”

Cuyamaca College in San Diego’s east county has been held up as a model for remedial education and what can be achieved under the reforms. It saw a nearly sevenfold increase in the number of students passing college-level math when it closed its traditional remedial classes and instead placed students in college math with extra support.

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While the new law does not lay out how colleges should achieve limiting remedial education, its requirements steer campuses toward something similar.

“The reforms in AB 705 are student success and equity imperatives,” said Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes in a press release. “Gov. Brown’s signing of AB 705 moves California one step closer to ensuring that every student has the opportunity to succeed.”

The law does not offer a timeline for implementation.

The governor also signed a bill Friday making the first year of community college free. And he signed a bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, to require schools test their water for lead, as well as two from Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to improve college students’ access to CalFresh food benefits and limit marketing of unhealthy food at schools.