Ensuring Student Access and Enhancing Student Success

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In this article, the author discusses the work of the Strategic Plan Assessment and Placement Action Planning Group (APG) for the California Community Colleges which aims to ensure equal educational opportunity for all Californians. The recommendations from this group were presented to the Board of Governors at their July, 2009 meeting.


Article 1.5 “Student Matriculation” (also cited as the Seymour-Campbell Matriculation Act of 1986) resides in Chapter 2 Part 48 of the Education Code. Through this section of the education code, the people of the State of California enacted regulations with the intent of:
(a)    Ensuring equal educational opportunity for all Californians
(b)   Ensuring that students receive the educational services necessary to optimize their opportunities for success
(c)    Providing students with the information to establish realistic educational goals, and ensure that the matriculation process does not exclude students from receiving appropriate educational services at community college.
Lofty goals? Perhaps. Necessary? Yes. These regulations were actually enacted as the result of a settlement to a lawsuit by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) brought against the California Community Colleges which alleged that unfair practices were occurring in certain California Community Colleges. The regulations mandate that our practices are fair and without bias.
They require that there are processes in place at the colleges to ensure such things as 1) the establishment of prerequisites only when there is a legitimate reason to put those prerequisites in place; 2) the use of placement exams only after those exams have been evaluated by faculty to assess skills necessary in courses for which the placement exam will be used; and, 3) the establishment and regular review of cut-scores for placement exams to ensure that they continue to appropriately place students. Additionally, there must be the incorporation of additional measures besides the one placement exam in the placement of students, and, the establishment of an appeal processes to ensure that students have the opportunity to be heard if they feel that the colleges matriculation processes are unfair or biased.
Today, as a result of the increased attention to the Basic Skills needs of our students, the assessment/placement processes at the colleges and the regulations governing them are receiving attention from many fronts. Following on the work of the Consultation Council Task Force on Assessment for Placement, a Strategic Plan Assessment Action Planning Group (APG) was convened, at the request of the Board of Governors, by the California Community College State Chancellor’s Office. The charges to this group were to continue the exploration of assessment-related issues and to address recommendations made in a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Back to Basics: Improving College Readiness of Community College Students.  
The APG was Co-Chaired by Steve Bruckman (CCCCO) and Mark Wade Lieu (ASCCC President) and included wide representation from various constituency groups of the California Community College System. After much discussion, collaboration, research, consultation with constituents, and compromise, the APG reached consensus on the following recommendations, which were presented to the Board of Governors at their July, 2009 meeting:

  1. Support statewide project to develop statewide pre-requisites for a limited set of general education courses using content review per the Model District Policy on Pre-Requisites, including an evaluation of the impacts.
  2. Support ongoing system efforts to increase matriculation funding and promote a desirable counselor: student ratio.
  3. Investigate what a reasonable percentage might be should counselors and librarians be included with "classroom faculty" for purposes of calculating 50% law compliance, with the possibility of using AB1157 as a vehicle for implementing such a change.
  4. Support for continued exploration of CCC Assess pilot.
  5. Support for continued development of CCCAA test feasibility work.

In addition to these recommendations, the APG agreed that the presentation to the Board of Governors would include background information to ensure that the members of the board understand the complexity of the issues and the thoughtful, intense discussions that led to the recommendations. It was also important to all members of the APG that the Board understood that, at the heart of each recommendation, was the conviction that that recommendation would have a positive impact on student success.
John F. Kennedy could have been speaking of the work of this APG when he wrote, “there are few if any issues where all the truth and all the right and all the angels are on one side.”[1] Compelling information and arguments were presented from the various perspectives for each of the issues discussed by this APG. For example, in theory it seems apparent that students who demonstrate a need for remediation will achieve greater academic success if that remediation occurs early in their college experience. However, in some studies that were presented to the APG, evidence demonstrated little if any difference in success between those students who received necessary remediation prior to taking college level coursework and those who did not; while other studies demonstrated a clear difference in success of these student groups. This type of seemingly contradictory information led to lively discussions amongst members of the APG.
While the group agreed that California must protect access to its community colleges at the same time that it provides students with the skills/tools necessary for their success, defining exactly what those necessary skills/tools are and how they are delivered, proved to be more difficult. The members of the APG acknowledged that, through the work of the Basic Skills Initiative, viable approaches to early remediation, such as: supplemental instruction, tutoring, contextual based remediation, bridge programs, etc. are being developed. Perhaps implementation of these additional remediation opportunities for students, will respect the original intent of the legislators and the people of California when they enacted Matriculation regulations.
After each meeting of the APG, the members were charged with reporting out to their constituency groups and soliciting feedback to inform future discussions. Because of this feedback from broad representation across the system, the recommendations that were presented to the Board of Governors in July a) represent sound beginning steps to address significant systemic issues, b) are in the best interest of students, c) can be implemented, and d) could actually have a positive effect on student success.
I applaud the legislators for working with the BOG and the CCCCO to establish the APG and for ensuring inclusion of all stakeholders in this group.

[1] Kennedy, John F. Profiles in Courage. Harper and Brothers, New York, 1956