Lisa Camarillo hadn’t set foot in a school — let alone a math class — in 25 years when she enrolled part-time three years ago. A placement test landed her in the lowest-level math class, four below any transferable course.
After creating an education plan, Camarillo, who also works full-time, took three remedial courses. But when SAC eliminated non-transferable math and English courses to comply with a new state law last year, she was forced to take Math 219 [Statistics and Probability]. She failed.
“I think that taking Math 083 [Beginning and Intermediate Algebra] would have been beneficial,” she said, referring to the last non-credit math course she was not allowed to take.
Camarillo is one of the thousands of California community college students struggling in transfer-level courses under Assembly Bill-705, which went into effect statewide this semester.
The bill eliminates all placement testing and instead uses a combination of a student’s high school transcript, grades and GPA to place them in one of three transferable math courses. This means students are being placed directly into classes like College Algebra and Statistics and Probability, regardless of whether or not they are actually prepared for the material.
The newly implemented plan requires students to take transferable math and English within their first year as the state moves to a funding model that rewards graduation rates for two-year schools.
A year-long study commissioned by the California Community Colleges State Chancellor’s Office revealed that student success rates during the bill’s pilot year had remained mostly unchanged.
“I think it’s going quite well,” said State Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley when asked about the progress at other California community colleges that began implementation a year early. “But it is still not uniform across the state, and we need to ensure that all students are receiving the benefit that we all desire for them from AB-705.”
Yet, not every college is succeeding.
Enrollment at SAC in the three transferable math courses grew by more than 600 in the last three years, including nearly 300 new students between fall 2017 and fall 2018. However, the number who earned passing grades in a transferable math class dropped by 9% over the same three-year period.
More than half of all math students either failed or did not complete the class they attempted in the pilot year.
Math Department Chair Ken Sill is concerned that many students are unprepared for transferable level coursework. While other California community colleges chose not to provide remedial support as part of its AB-705 implementation, faculty from SAC’s math department knew additional help was crucial.
Both Math 140 [College Algebra] and Math 219 [Statistics and Probability] are now offered with an attached support course, which includes up to two extra hours with a professor each week. To comply with the law, support classes are considered co-requisites and count for half a unit. However, it is the student’s decision to sign up for help if they do not feel prepared for the class.
Last month, the School of Continuing Education announced they would be offering an additional free non-credit math class for struggling students.
“Our approach is going to be different compared to other community colleges,” Sill said. “Some have completely gotten rid of pre-transfer level courses. We are not headed in that direction … we believe there will always be a need for pre-transfer level courses,” Sill said.
Professors and tutors at SAC’s Math Center say they have seen an increase in students seeking help since the program’s implementation.
Tutor Harley Villanueva said that she and others work daily with students who do not have the foundation to do basic math problems. Those who come in for help are frustrated and discouraged.
“I’ve been tutoring students in Math 140, and some students tell me they have no idea what is going on in class and that they want to drop,” Villanueva said.
State officials stress that it is only the first year of implementation and adjustments still need to be made. At SAC, faculty say they will continue to offer whatever support is necessary to ensure student success.
“We know that some students are not going to make it. We want to make sure that we still have something for them. That they are not some casualty of this new legislation,” Sill said.