At its inception in 2006, the Basic Skills Initiative placed a focus on the importance of discipline faculty expertise in curricular decisions. This initiative led to a great deal of good work that continues to affect a majority of community college students. The current academic year has seen a renewed focus on discussions of basic skills curriculum due to the ongoing development of the Common Assessment Initiative (CAI), the emphasis on the Student Success & Support Program (SSSP) and Student Equity Plans, and an unknown future with the AB 86 adult education planning. For this reason, faculty experts in basic skills disciplines were recently called together to begin a process of building further on previous curricular efforts.
The basic skills funding model developed throughout prior years and initiatives included the tracking of Chancellor’s Office Management Information System (MIS) data. The data in the MIS system includes all course information each term organized through a series of coding elements. One such element is labeled CB 21, “Course Prior to Transfer Level.” CB 21 coding is used only for non-transfer level courses in English writing, English reading, and mathematics. ESL is the only discipline allowed to code CB 21 for transfer courses. This information is used for accountability reporting, which is employed to justify investments and expenditures in basic skills.
The CB 21 project, conducted from 2008 to 2010, represented the collaborative work of hundreds of discipline faculty, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, and the Chancellor’s Office in order to improve, update, and correct the coding used to track and report student progress through basic skills. The result was a set of rubrics aligned for both credit and noncredit courses even though the courses might be taught very differently with a disparity of levels, numbers of courses, and methodology of teaching
With the development of the CB 21 rubrics, colleges were directed to correctly recode basic skills math, English reading, English writing, and ESL courses to identify the levels of various courses in the MIS database using the rubrics. This data was then tracked for each student to determine successful progress through the pathway. The project resulted in the following benefits:
- Clearer documentation of the basic skills credit and noncredit pathways for institutions, students, faculty and researchers.
- Alignment of credit and noncredit basic skills and ESL courses.
- New and more accurate reporting metrics for student progress and assessment levels by individual disciplines.
- Actionable data for each basic skills and ESL discipline, rather than the previous data that aggregated English, math, and reading as one metric.
- Statewide comparability for success and progress along the basic skills pathway.
The CB 21 project provided faculty the opportunity to examine innovations at individual colleges, pointed out the need to present accurate accountability reporting to the legislature and other external groups, and identified efficiencies where colleges could use placement and transcript data from other community colleges to enroll students in the appropriate course level.
In September 2014, basic skills faculty again came together in the north and the south of the state to reexamine the work done on the Basic Skills CB 21 rubrics in light of innovations in basic skills instruction and curricular changes to see whether the rubrics were still relevant. Overall, these discipline experts suggested slight changes in wording but felt the levels below transfer identified in the rubrics were still relevant to the majority of the colleges and basic skills work. Attendees also considered ways to better document accelerated courses using the coding in order to track progress when levels were skipped.
Faculty at these meetings were reminded that the rubrics are not standardization of basic skills courses, they do not drive curricular changes, and they are not intended for common course numbering or articulation. With this in mind, faculty were asked to compare alignment between English and ESL, reading and English, and credit and noncredit as well as details of knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies and to consider whether C-ID descriptors beginning at highest levels below transfer would be appropriate. If descriptors could be created, then the descriptors and the rubrics could be used in discussions for the common assessment and multiple measures work under the CAI. C-ID descriptors could also be used to help colleges conduct discussions of possible curricular revisions in light of AB 86 Adult Basic Education planning and the increase in funding for career development and college preparation noncredit planned for 2015-16.
Students may also benefit directly from the continuing work on basic skills rubrics and descriptors. Students do not always understand the various levels of basics skills coursework. Often they only know that they have one, two, or more courses to complete. They may become discouraged, or they may travel to another college only to be reassessed and placed into a very different system of leveled basic skills work. Finding comparable descriptions of course work may help students better identify the skills they need to be successful in their educational goals.
Although the rubrics have been examined, the current work on basic skills curriculum is not done. The next step is to examine comparable basic skills courses and, where appropriate, to develop C-ID descriptors. This project will be initiated soon by inviting discipline faculty to participate Discipline Inquiry Groups. We hope that all faculty will participate in this and other important projects statewide to aid our students through our very complicated system. To receive the announcements of these events, sign up for the disciplines listserves via the ASCCC website at http://www.asccc.org/signup-newsletters.