Five Years Later and Questions Remain

Data and Research Committee
Data and Research Committee Chair

For decades, colleges have been trying to improve the results of remediation. Efforts like the Basic Skills Initiative, basic skills innovation grants, and the Common Assessment Initiative were all envisioned to improve placement practices and increase the number of students earning degrees and transferring to universities. These types of efforts had varying levels of success, but huge increases in the number of students completing English composition and a transfer-level mathematics course never materialized. The California Acceleration Project worked with many colleges to develop accelerated remedial math and English sequences to reduce the number of courses that students took before transfer level, and the Research and Planning Group tried to increase the use of high school transcript data in student placement with the Student Transcript Enhanced Placement Study that became the Multiple Measures Assessment Project (MMAP). These efforts had success at some schools, but they were not implemented systemwide until the adoption of AB 705 (Irwin, 2017), which fundamentally changed placement processes and student access to transfer level coursework in mathematics and English. The supporters of the law claimed that AB 705 would eliminate access gaps, increase throughput, and reduce equity gaps.

Implementation of the requirements for mathematics and English placement began in Fall 2019, but many faculty still had concerns related to the impact on students enrolled in mathematics and English courses and in courses in other disciplines that required prerequisite skills that students previously developed in pre-transfer courses. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office AB705 implementation guidance memo strongly urged colleges to place students directly into transfer-level courses in English and mathematics with or without corequisite courses regardless of high school GPA. [1]  To place a student into a pre-transfer course, colleges must demonstrate that their likelihood of completing a transfer-level course would be higher than with direct access to transfer level.

Throughput became a new measure of success in the community college system: this concept tracks the number of students that enter and complete a transfer-level course in one year. As publications from the Public Policy Institute of California and MMAP have shown, the promise of increasing throughput has been realized since the implementation of AB 705. Additionally, the access gaps regarding transfer-level courses that had persisted in the system for decades have been nearly eliminated. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has developed the Transfer Level Gateway Completion Dashboard [2],  which can display systemwide and college-level throughput rates for mathematics and English. The dashboard also disaggregates the data into four ethnic groups—African American, Asian, Hispanic, and White—to allow viewers to determine if equity gaps persist or if they have been mitigated. The dashboard indicates that many colleges have had increases in their equity gaps for some groups.

In September 2020, the ASCCC’s Guided Pathways Taskforce published Optimizing Student Success – An Academic Senate White Paper [3].  This paper was based on data through the Fall 2019 semester, so it captured early AB 705 implementation data but excluded the Spring 2020 semester, when all California community colleges had to rapidly switch to remote learning. The paper notes some successes, for example confirming the near elimination of access gaps, and the potential benefits of academic support communities such as Puente and Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement. The paper also highlights some local college or district challenges resulting from implementing AB 705, such as persistent equity gaps in student course success when disaggregating data. Measures such as course success, unsuccessful attempts, student-initiated drop rates, and disaggregation by special population were introduced as additional ways to evaluate student placement methods with an eye towards continuous improvement and, importantly, equitable student success.

Seeking additional information about what colleges have done to implement AB 705 and how the law has impacted students, the delegates to the ASCCC’s Fall 2020 Plenary Session passed Resolution 18.01 F20, directing the ASCCC to “assist local academic senates in collaboration with college research professionals to create evaluation plans that examine throughput, student success, persistence, retention, unsuccessful course attempts, and completion with a goal of optimizing student success and addressing inequities and achievement gaps among disproportionately impacted or marginalized student groups” and to “write a paper on optimizing student success by evaluating placement in English, English as a Second Language, and mathematics pathways for consideration at the Spring 2022 Plenary Session.” [4]  To address this resolution, the ASCCC formed the Data and Research Task Force (DRTF) for the 2021-22 academic year. The DRTF developed three surveys seeking information from colleges that went beyond throughput to try to determine the impact of AB 705 on students. The surveys were intended to supply all the information required to develop a paper to highlight successes and challenges with the implementation of AB 705. Unfortunately, additional data collection may be required due to low response rates for the surveys and some colleges not tracking the data the surveys attempted to collect.

In May 2022, the ASCCC established the Data and Research Committee (DRC) as a new standing committee. This committee is currently reviewing the data collected in 2021-22 and developing additional measures that colleges might want to track to see how well their students are performing. In spring 2022, the Chancellor’s Office had colleges submit AB 705 improvement plans outlining how they were going to bring their institutions into compliance with the law. The directive was that colleges needed to ensure that students were placed and enrolled in transfer-level courses in mathematics and English. AB 1705 (Irwin, 2022) will codify near universal placement of students into transfer-level mathematics and English courses.

Faculty have always wanted to see students succeed, and they developed pre-transfer courses because they believed those courses would help students complete baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral degrees. Those goals have not changed, but the regulations and legal requirements have.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the challenges in determining what could be causing the equity gaps in student success to widen, but colleges are still looking for answers. Moreover, colleges are returning to in-person instruction with more questions than they had before the pandemic. Beyond the impacts of AB 705, what has been the impact on learning due to the pandemic? Will students be able to maintain the level of success predicted by historical trends? Will more students drop out of college because they become frustrated in transfer-level English and math courses? How can colleges ensure they do not lose even more students who have given up on higher education due to the pandemic? Questions like these and like those in last year’s surveys will be a primary focus of the DRC, and the committee hopes to provide greater clarity on how all faculty and colleges can come together to support students.

Many of the questions asked when AB 705 was signed have still not been answered because the pandemic has skewed some of the data and because of the singular focus on throughput. The pandemic, the use of remote instruction, and the revisions to AB 705 that AB 1705 will implement have created new questions that faculty must answer to ensure that students are not harmed. Faculty statewide and the ASCCC will work together to ensure that colleges share promising practices and possible pitfalls to help all students reach their educational goals.

[1] The full text of the memo may be accessed at

[2] The dashboard is accessible at
[3] The paper is available at
[4] The full text of the resolution is available at