Most first-time community college students are not prepared to succeed in college-level courses without one or more courses in basic skills to develop necessary reading, writing, and mathematics skills. The mission to provide basic skills is directed at a vast number of students who enter our community colleges today. To serve these students as well as we can, we must encourage faculty, administrators, and others in decision-making positions to employ effective practices so that under-prepared students may complete transfer and occupational programs within a reasonable timeframe. This paper is intended to provide a basis for improving basic skills instruction and services by providing readers with a survey of current literature discussing the most effective practices in basic skills found throughout the nation and practices in the California community colleges that model these effective practices.
The State of Basic Skills Instruction in California Community Colleges (Academic Senate, Spring 2000) contained the following recommendations for improving basic skills instruction at our institutions:
- Local senates should lead their faculty and administration to view basic skills instruction as central to the community college mission.
- Local senates should study the basic skills programs in their colleges and support basic skills instructors and program leaders by:
- recognizing basic skills students' particular needs for programs that include a personalized approach and supporting smaller classes sizes;
- urging administration to provide adequate ongoing funding for basic skills programs;
- working with counseling faculty and matriculation officers to ensure that all assessment of incoming students includes consideration of valid multiple measures and effective counseling and advising;
- reviewing course content to assure that it is aligned with results of placement information;
- supporting the hiring of faculty who are not only discipline experts but who are also committed to basic skills learners;
- acknowledging the importance of quality reading instruction to all areas of curriculum and supporting the allocation of optimum conditions for reading instruction, including adequate classroom space and equipment to provide an environment conductive to learning;
- advocating for specific research geared toward identifying methods to help basic skills students to receive appropriate placement, and to increase their retention and success rates; and
- providing faculty development opportunities to inform all faculty about needs and methods of instruction best suited to basic skills students.
- Local senates should lead the college to take a more global approach to the instruction of basic skills students so that faculty from all areas participate in an "across-the-curriculum" approach to basic skills learners. Successful approaches involve student services faculty as well as faculty from all disciplines, teaching both general and well as vocational education. As with successful transfer efforts, serving basic skills students needs to be an institutional commitment.
The above list of recommendations is not exhaustive, but with the rest of the information in this paper, it provides direction to local academic senates working to address this critical part of our mission.