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Video: Improving English Courses at California’s Community Colleges

Abby Cook March 5, 2018
diverse group of students on college campus

California’s community colleges are in the midst of numerous reforms to improve developmental—or remedial—education. Developmental education is supposed to help prepare students for college work but it has long been an obstacle to student success: most students in developmental classes never go on to complete a college-level course in English or math. A recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) looks at the effectiveness of some of these reforms in English. It finds that one reform in particular shows real promise. Called one-semester acceleration, it’s a highly intensive course that leads directly to a college composition class. Still, there is much room for improvement, especially for underrepresented students.

PPIC researcher Marisol Cuellar Mejia presented findings from the report in Sacramento this week. In a discussion following the presentation, panelists talked about promising initiatives underway in developmental education. Many of the current efforts to more accurately place students in appropriate classes and transform course sequences are motivated by AB 705, a legislative proposal signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown last fall. Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, who authored the bill, said it provides flexibility to the state’s individual community colleges “but with clear requirements that colleges use the best of multiple measures—including high school performance—in placing students.” The bill also instructs colleges to maximize the possibility that students pass a transfer level class within a year.

Laura Hope, executive vice chancellor for educational services at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, described the central challenge involved in full-scale implementation of reforms across the state’s 114 community colleges as an instructional paradigm shift. “It’s about changing minds and hearts about student capacity and the belief that they don’t come to us just a jumble of deficits . . . It’s about shifting that mindset away from fixing students into activating students.”

Summer Serpas, assistant director of the California Acceleration Project, underscored the professional support that teachers will need as a larger and more diverse group of students move out of developmental courses and into transfer-level ones: “These students are capable of doing the work, but they come in needing [additional] support.” Serpas said it will be critical to learn from colleges that have already adopted successful reforms, including accelerated pathways and the “co-requisite” model, in which students enroll directly in college composition with concurrent support.

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