Basic Skills Courses & College Transfer
How AB 1705 would reduce course offerings and negatively impact community college students
by Salumeh Eslamieh, AFT 1493 Cañada College Executive Committee Rep.
Assembly Bill 1705 (Irwin) is a proposed bill currently being considered by the state legislature. By implementing three mandates, it aims to accelerate students’ completion of transfer-level English and math coursework within one year. First, it sets forth the requirement that California community colleges offer additional matriculation services. Its second directive is that colleges only use a student’s high school coursework, grades, and/or GPA in order to determine their highest placement in both English and math. Third, and most concerningly, AB 1705 would prohibit California community colleges from offering pre-transfer level English, ESL, and math courses (otherwise known as basic skills or remedial courses).
Adding more restrictive mandates to those imposed by AB 705
These provisions are an extension of those imposed by Assembly Bill 705, passed in 2017. Currently, California community colleges are complying with the two demands of AB 705: 1) implementing multiple measures for assessment in order to give students the highest probability of enrolling in transfer-level courses, and 2) creating course options for students to finish transfer-level coursework within one year of enrolling in English and math. As a result, English and math faculty have been facing the challenge of maintaining high standards for teaching and learning while revamping their programs and curricula to best serve underprepared students who have no other option but to enroll in transfer-level courses.
Five years after the implementation of AB 705, and on the heels of a pandemic, the state appears determined to enforce even more stringent regulations with AB 1705. Despite the fact that our colleges and communities have not yet fully recovered from the pandemic, and in the concurrent absence of reliable and objective success data, lawmakers convert the strong nudges of AB 705 to firm decrees in AB 1705, requiring students to finish English and math transfer-level courses within one year of enrolling at a community college. These impending changes are disconcerting given the state data which shows a steady decline in English and math completion rates since 2015. (See the CCCCO Transfer-Level Gateway Completion Dashboard; set “Starting Course Level’ to “Below Transfer: 1 Level.”)
Black and Hispanic students disproportionately affected
Alongside this general decline, the data specifically shows that Black and Hispanic students have had disproportionately lower course completion rates compared to Asian and White students, demonstrating a growing increase in the equity gap. Despite this worrisome data, AB 1705 is making its way through the legislature. If passed, California community colleges will not be permitted to offer pre-transfer courses and students will be prohibited from enrolling in a pre-transfer English, ESL, or math course. Thereby AB 1705 is a direct counter to the California Community Colleges mission statement: “the community colleges shall offer instruction and courses to achieve the following: the provision of remedial instruction for those in need of it and, in conjunction with the school districts, instruction in English as a second language, adult noncredit instruction, and support services which help students succeed at the postsecondary level are reaffirmed and supported as essential and important functions of the community colleges.”
Educators across the state, including the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC), are rightfully outraged by AB 1705’s demands and its impending implications, leading California Federation of Teachers (CFT) to actively work on opposing this bill. If passed, AB 1705 would cut English, ESL, and math course offerings across the state, leaving students without access to pre-transfer courses and without liberty to elect the educational pathway that best serves their needs and goals. Additionally, AB 1705 poses an adverse impact on students enrolled in CTE programs that don’t require transfer-level English and math. When this bill passes, these students will be faced with an unnecessary hurdle to achieving their goals. As with AB 705, AB 1705 will inevitably reduce enrollment, continue to widen the equity gap, and shut our doors to traditionally underserved student populations who want to gain foundational skills before attempting transfer-level courses and who may not have the means to complete their English and math courses within one year.
Proponents of AB 1705 are under the impression that the bill would free students from remaining “stuck” in developmental classes and not persisting toward transfer level courses. However, according to CFT, “AB 1705 is simply not the right approach for improving student outcomes and could result in severe negative impacts for students who need these resources the most.”