Many students are not immediately ready for college-level math, Melvin said. If they require them to complete a college-level course within a year of enrollment, there could be unintended consequences, he said.
Grace Gideon, 33, did not pass a transfer grade within a year of enrolling in junior college in 2013. When she started, she had a son in kindergarten and hadn’t been to school in seven years, so she enrolled in an undergraduate algebra course.
She did not pass her first college-level math class until five years later. By the metric used in the research that fueled the AB 1705 push, Gideon’s path would not have been considered successful.
But that spring, nine years later, she graduated from junior college with five associate degrees and was a public speaker to begin with. She is going to the University of California, Berkeley, where she hopes to study quantum mechanics.
Before she took pre-algebra in junior college, Gideon thought she didn’t like math. That changed in her remedial course, she said.
“I fell madly in love with math and changed my major,” she said. “When I got into math class, it felt very secure and structured, which gave me that stability and a place to actually solve problems.”
Advocates of remedial courses point out that California’s high school math certificate requirements go only up to Algebra I. That’s several levels below college-level mathematics beginning with precalculus or statistics, both of which require an understanding of the concepts covered in Algebra II.
As a result, a high school graduate may show up at community college without having taken the courses that would prepare them for college-level math.
Those in favor of eliminating remedial education cite an increase in college preparatory classes in some Sonoma County school districts, including Santa Rosa City Schools. For example, the math course sequence that meets the admissions criteria for both the University of California and California State University systems includes completion of Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.
But amid the disruption from wildfires and their aftermath, including smoke days and power outages, as well as multi-year distance learning during the pandemic, many local students are failing to meet CSU and UC prep requirements.
At Santa Rosa City Schools, for example, the rate of graduates successfully completing all requirements has fallen by 14% over the past five years.
In 2021, the proportion hit a low of 1,905 graduates, or 11.4%, according to school district data.
This kind of data and conversations with local high school math teachers got Melvin worried about the state’s big shift away from remedial education.
“To get something so drastic right when we get out of the pandemic seems disingenuous,” he said. “To turn off all (remedial) options is also unfair.”
The debate arrives on campus at home
Shawn Smith, who is studying nursing at junior college, returned to school in the fall of 2021, 27 years after dropping out of eighth grade. He completed a GED in 2009, but passing college-level math by the time he enters junior college is “never possible,” he said.
The remedial course in which he got an A in last fall prepared him to pass statistics and chemistry, he said.
“If I hadn’t taken this course, I know for a fact that I would have failed,” Smith said. “And it would have crushed me. It wouldn’t have been worth it to me (going to school).”
Now, he said, he gets A’s in all his classes. But early failure, he said, would have cemented fears he had long held about himself as a student: “Look, I knew school wasn’t for me. I knew I was stupid.”
An online petition by members of the Santa Rosa Junior College community who opposed AB 1705 had nearly 2,000 signatures this week. The faculty association of California community colleges has also spoken out against the bill.