Andres Salazar: Alternative to remediation

FILE PHOTO: Members of the 2017 graduating class march in to begin the College of the Canyons commencement ceremony held in the Honor Grove at College of the Canyons in Valencia on June 2. Dan Watson/For the Signal

As I complete my final exams at College of the Canyons, I’m one step closer to pursuing my dream of being a professional musician.

I can’t wait to kick off summer celebrating with gratitude and pride that I’ll transfer to California Institute of the Arts in the fall.

But my journey to a college degree almost got sidetracked by the standardized placement test that assigned me to remedial math.

This is an all-too-common story for California community college students – they take a placement test, are forced into remedial classes, and then over time drop out.

Each year more than 170,000 students begin in remedial math across California, and more than 110,000 of them never complete the math for a degree.

I had a 4.0 GPA in high school and earned an A in all my high school algebra courses, but the placement test put me into basic arithmetic. That would mean taking up to two years of remedial math before I could enroll in Statistics, the college-level course required for my major.

Across California, more than 90 percent of the California community college students who start in this class never complete the math required for a bachelor’s degree.

Fortunately, my college has transformed its approach to math placement. Instead of relying only on the standardized test, College of the Canyons used my high school GPA and math grades to determine that I could enroll directly in college-level Statistics. I completed the course with an A, and I did it in one semester instead of five.

Students at most community colleges aren’t offered this opportunity. Approximately 80 percent of California community college students are required to take remedial courses based on standardized tests.

And while these classes were originally intended to help students be more successful, studies show that placement into remediation delays students’ progress and makes them less likely to earn a college degree.

This needs to change.

AB 705, a bill the California Legislature is considering, is a good first step. The bill requires colleges to set placement policies that maximize students’ likelihood of completing college English and math within a year. It would require that colleges use high school coursework and overall GPA – a key indicator of student success – when making assessment and placement decisions.

AB 705 also makes clear that students have a right to enroll in college-level courses unless research shows they are “highly unlikely” to succeed there.

In addition to the changes outlined in AB 705, community colleges need to be transparent with students about their policies for course placement, instead of making these decisions behind closed doors.

Colleges should be required to publicly report their placement policies – their criteria, where they are placing students in English and math course sequences, and whether placement is equitable across demographic groups.

Ever since I started playing piano at age 5, I’ve known that music is my passion. Now I am on my way to earning a degree in piano performance and becoming an instrumental conductor.

I feel so lucky that my college was willing to recognize my high school work and let me start directly in a college Statistics class. It’s time that every California community college student is afforded this same opportunity.

Andres Salazar, born and raised in Santa Clarita, is graduating from College of the Canyons and transferring to California Institute of the Arts in the fall.

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