No place for placement tests at Pierce

Students who have been at Pierce for more than a year remember the era of math and English placement tests.

Now, Assembly Bill 705 takes away the power standardized placement tests have over incoming students. Instead, students will be placed in transfer-level math and English classes based on new criteria.

The bill was enacted on Jan. 1, 2018 and requires California community colleges to allow students the opportunity to enter into transfer-level English and math courses within a one-year time frame. The placement of students in these classes will be based on high school GPA, coursework history and grades received.

This method is based on a local version of the Multiple Measures Assessment Project, which has been around for a year, factors in one’s high school academic history when being placed into transfer-level classes.

Some students are probably more familiar with the more dated version of English and math placement, which was through a test before one’s first semester at Pierce. Since it was a standardized test, students were often misplaced in course levels that didn’t match their capabilities.

“Placement tests are not indicating a level of intelligence in any respect,” Multiple Subject Tutor Lindsey Lazo said. “I think that’s a newer thing that we’ve been really discovering in this last decade. It is that standardized tests aren’t accurate to people’s capabilities and that’s why they switched from looking at these assessments to looking at high school GPA and what they call the Multiple Measures Assessment Project.”

Placement tests and testing are not always indicative to one’s level of learning and create problems for students placed in longer english and math sequences.

For example, if a student was placed in English 21 due to their placement test result, it would take them an entire school year to reach a transfer-level English course. This lengthened sequence oftentimes keeps students from reaching their educational goals because of the persistence it takes to reach a transfer-level course.

“The theory is that you are allowing more students access to transfer-level courses and therefore completion rates will be higher,” said Math Department Chair Eddie Tchertchian.

AB 705 examined completion rates from past years to see how students react to longer course sequences.

Crystal Kiekel, the director for the Center for Academic Success, said that the reason for the legislation is because it aims to help students with pathways success versus course success.

When students pass a course that is course success, but when students complete the English course sequence, this is pathway success.

Kiekel also said that an important piece of data to look at when talking about AB 705 are the demographics of students who are placed into below transfer-level courses.

“We’re talking about a system that’s going to disproportionality place our most underserved in this system from which they never escape” Kiekel said.

The process of students being placed in courses below transfer-level and finding pathway success in English and math sequences is part of the AB 705.

“We would be doubling our success rate by just putting them into English 101,” Kiekel said. “The state legislatures looked at the current system and lot of evidence from across the country, and they were like this is unethical.”

One of the concerns that is brought up with AB 705 is if students are adequately equipped to handle starting in transfer-level English and math courses.

“Implementing AB 705 could be difficult and daunting task for math and English faculty because we need to ensure the students get the proper support,” Tchertchian said.

While students start in a transfer-level English or math course, this does not mean every student will be successful.

“The main thing we have to do is prepare for students who are coming into English 101 who might have traditionally placed into English 21 or 28 and offer them services that will enable them to succeed,” said English Department Chair, Brad Saenz.

Whether students have not taken an English/math class in years or barely passed the course the first time, faculty are looking for ways to help students.

An important resource that will aid in the transition to AB 705 compliant courses would be the help from support lab classes and embedded tutors.

Potentially having embedded tutors in all transfer-level math and English classes could assist students find the help they need to reach course success. Also, support lab class could help students receive the extra help they may feel they need to pass the class.

Pierce is still trying to figure out a way to properly help students succeed with AB 705.

Tchertchian said the math department has weekly team meeting with 15 volunteer faculty members from the department who are still trying to develop a plan for AB 705.

Conversely, the English department is constructing a tentative three-level plan that includes a presemster workshop, more coordination with embedded tutors and a support lab class.

Faculty had a short time frame to submit an AB 705 plan to the district.

“The timeline is a little tight and faculty were not given the proper time to really think this through as much as they would like to,” Tchertchian said. “We just had from the beginning of the semester and we had a hard deadline of Oct. 5 to submit to the district our plan.”

Faculty from the English and math departments are still trying to develop a plan to replace the former course placement system.

AB 705 compliant courses will begin in the Fall 2019 semester.