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Student Success: The Case for Establishing Prerequisites through Content Review
In the 1990s, the Academic Senate collaborated with the Chancellor’s Office and other leadership groups in the state to revise Title 5 regulations, to draft The Model District Policy on Prerequisites, Corequisites, and Advisories on Recommended Preparation (Board of Governors, 1993) and Prerequisites, Corequisites, Advisories, And Limitations On Enrollment (Chancellor’s Office, 1997), and the Academic Senate authored Good Practice for the Implementation of Prerequisites (1997). These documents established a requirement that most prerequisites had to be statistically validated in order for enrollment in a course to be restricted, effectively requiring faculty to justify prerequisites by failing students. As a result of the difficulties created by this requirement, many colleges chose not to apply prerequisities to their courses and instead allowed students to self-diagnose their own levels of preparation. After a decade of policy and practice promoting relatively unhindered student enrollment in course sections throughout the curriculum, faculty have concluded that the consequence of this situation has been a decline in the level of student preparation necessary for success in a limited but crucial range of courses in community colleges. In addition, the quality of instruction is likely to have been negatively impacted as faculty attempted to facilitate the success of students who were not appropriately prepared, lacking the knowledge and/or skills necessary for a reasonable chance of success. For these reasons the faculty have adopted resolutions urging expanded use of content review—a method for establishing prerequisites already promoted in the policy documents of the 1990s. This paper indicates why faculty believe expanded reliance on rigorous content review as a means of validating prerequisites is necessary to improve student success. In addition, the Academic Senate is preparing separate papers on related topics, including (1) multiple measures and (2) transition strategies colleges can use as they revisit and in some cases expand the number of legitimate prerequisites in their curriculum. Changing the process for the establishment of prerequisites is just one of many ongoing efforts to increase student success, a goal of all faculty but one most recently renewed as colleges initiated efforts to improve success in the basic skills curriculum as a component of the Basic Skills Initiative (www.cccbsi.org) in preparation for raising statewide the math and English requirements for the earning of an associate degree.
The following recommendations derive from not only the contents of this paper, but from those that would be relevant as the Academic Senate implemented the proposed change in how prerequisites may be validated. At the State Level The Chancellor’s Office should work collaboratively with colleges and districts to enhance Datamart and other data research tools in order to provide better system level analysis of the effect of prerequisites. While curriculum is a local matter, state level trends may be informative. The Chancellor’s Office should foster ongoing attention to the interaction of student access, student retention, student success, and student persistence data disaggregated by ethnicity. The Academic Senate should provide immediate and ongoing training and opportunities for colleges to share their experiences in combining prerequisite validation based on statistical validation and prerequisite validation based on content review. The Academic Senate should, for the foreseeable future, provide opportunities for colleges to share their experiences in implementing prerequisites based exclusively on content review. In conjunction with the Chancellor’s Office and other stakeholders, the Academic Senate should review and revise as appropriate “Multiple Measures and Other Sorrows” (Chancellor’s Office, 1998). with particular attention to the need to ensure that the use of multiple measures does not rely on criteria that are excessively subjective or difficult to apply. At the Local Level Local curriculum committees should promote a structured review of student success throughout the institution and prioritize the establishment of prerequisites most likely to improve student success and persistence. Where data already exists, legitimate prerequisites should be established. Local curriculum committees should review or develop a formal process for content review with a degree of rigor consistent with the use of content review alone as the basis for prerequisites. Local administrations should hold harmless any discipline, department, or division that suffers a drop in enrollment that can be demonstrated to be the result of the faculty’s good faith effort to improve student success through the implementation of appropriate prerequisites. Faculty should undertake a dialog about peer review practices that can ensure that all sections are taught in a way that honor course outlines without infringing on the judgment each faculty member must exercise about how best to translate the course outline to the individual instructor’s syllabus. Academic senates should review and update processes that allow for students to challenge a prerequisite.