Opinion

Remedial math courses don’t help students. They get in the way of our aspirations

I’ve heard classmates talk about “not being a math person,” but I’ve never thought of myself that way. I took four years of math in high school and passed all my classes with A’s and B’s.

Yet, when I took a placement test to enroll in the Los Rios Community College District, the results said I had to take a remedial course: intermediate algebra. I was rattled because I’d already passed this class in high school, as well as statistics, a more advanced math class. I petitioned my college to let me enroll in a higher class, but was turned down outright.

As a student ambassador for the Campaign for College Opportunity, I’ve learned that my experience has been all too common in California. Luckily, Assembly Bill 705, passed by the state legislature and signed into law in 2017, requires community colleges to recognize students’ high school work when making placement decisions, rather than relying on standardized tests like the one I took. AB 705 also restricts colleges from requiring students to take remedial courses.

Opinion

I find myself wondering how my life would have been different if the law had been in place when I started college. Because Los Rios refused to recognize the prerequisites I’d completed in high school, I couldn’t enroll in the math I needed to major in psychology at a University of California. And because I couldn’t afford the time it would take to repeat classes I’d already taken, I changed my major to sociology.

Now a transfer student at UCLA, I am watching AB 705 implementation with interest. I’m happy to see that, as of earlier this year, all four colleges in the Los Rios district have nearly eliminated remedial courses in English. The fall schedule for my alma mater, Cosumnes River College (CRC), included 73 sections of college composition and just 5 sections of remedial reading and writing.

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These class schedules send a clear message to students that they aren’t good enough to take higher math courses. What’s more, so many resources are being devoted to remedial classes that there won’t be enough space in higher courses for the students who have a right to enroll in them.

I don’t understand how colleges are even allowed to do this. AB 705 says students should begin in classes where they have the best chance of completing transferable math and English requirements. Statewide research shows that all students do worse when they start in remedial courses. Even students with the lowest high school grades are three to five times more likely to complete university math when they enroll directly in these courses than when they take a remedial course.

To my fellow students, I encourage you to know your rights under AB 705 and put your time and money into courses that build toward your future. Even if you aren’t confident in math, don’t fall for the myth that remedial courses will help you succeed. They actually make you less likely to earn a degree.

And to college leaders in the Los Rios district, it’s clear that positive change is underway in English, but you are lagging behind other colleges in math, such as Reedley College, which eliminated remedial math in spring 2019, and College of the Redwoods, which requires students to sign a consent form to enroll in one of the few remedial sections they still offer. I urge you to stop offering remedial math and ensure that Sacramento-area students have the best opportunity to reach their goals.

Arshdeep Kaur is a recent graduate of Cosumnes River College in the Los Rios Community College District.
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