IRW Update from California: New Law Transforms the Remedial Landscape

By Alison Kuehner

This is the first in a series of blogs for the NADE IRW network designed to keep folks informed about integrated reading and writing developments across the country.

This kick off blog focuses on a mini-conference held on Oct. 15, 2018 at San Francisco State University in coordination with the Northern California Community College Reading Association to discuss the implications of California’s newest legislation—AB 705—that mandates changes to developmental English and math.

AB 705 Background

Katie Hern, co-founder of the California Acceleration Project and member of the AB705 Implementation Committee, opened the conference with background about California’s newest legislation, AB 705.

Here are the highlights . . .
AB 705 addresses systemic problems:
Too many students deemed unprepared: 75% of students in California Community Colleges are placed into remedial classes.

Placement is destiny: Odds of completing transfer-level composition are low if students start in remediation, even if students place only one level below transfer.

Inequity: Students of color are disproportionately placed into remedial classes.

The slide below from Katie Hern’s presentation shows that students who place below transfer English have little chance to pass transfer English—and students of color are overrepresented in remedial classes.

katie hern

AB705 mandates:
Proper Placement: Use high school grades, not high stakes standardized tests, to place students

Start in Transfer: Unless students are “highly unlikely to succeed,” they should start in transfer-level English, with co-requisite support if needed

One-Year to Complete Transfer: Colleges must “maximize probability” that students complete transfer-level English in one year

mouse(Another slide from Katie’s presentation: how some faculty are feeling about AB 705)

OK, granted—these changes are making some California faculty nervous! AB 705 basically requires that all students start in transfer level composition, with co-requisite support if needed. That means no remedial reading, writing, or even IRW classes.

Implementing AB 705: Successes

Next up: A panel of faculty from five SF Bay area colleges reported on changes made to their English sequences in anticipation of AB 705.


Some colleges that have reformed placement and eliminated remedial classes have seen the following results:

• More students have immediate access to transfer level classes

• Success rates in transfer composition are holding steady

• Significant improvements in success rates for students of color

The graph below shows students starting in transfer level (yellow) have higher completion rates in transfer English than those in a co-req class (blue) or those who begin 1 level below transfer (brown) regardless of their ethnicity.


Conclusion: Co-requisite courses are more effective than accelerated courses one-level below transfer for student success in transfer English within one year.

Implementing AB 705: Issues

Other colleges are in the midst of eliminating remedial classes and creating co-requisite courses. Here are some of their concerns:

International Students: Second language learners may not have the requisite language skills to succeed in transfer level English

Classroom Reality: Challenging to teach students of varying skill ranges and abilities

Scheduling and Registration: Difficult to find rooms for large unit classes and for students to register into linked classes

Beyond English and Math: AB 705 focuses only on English and math, but faculty in other disciplines need to reinforce students’ reading, writing, thinking, and computational skills

The Fate of Reading Classes

Final Panel: Five faculty teaching at colleges with reading departments spoke about the fate of stand-alone reading classes at community colleges.


This panel mentioned various themes:

A Reading Degree Matters: Special training is needed to teach reading; this is a valuable skill and many reading faculty were hired on the strength of their expertise

Teaching Reading Matters: College students need to be proficient readers; writing is only part of the package

Reading Departments Feel Isolated: Some reading departments have not been able to successfully collaborate with English faculty or to be included in IRW reforms

Reading Departments May Disappear: Some reading departments may be “absorbed” into English or may disappear altogether

Reading Departments Can Reinvent Themselves: Reading faculty spoke of creative ways to reimagine reading classes, from transfer-level reading courses to reading across the disciplines to digital literacy

–Alison Kuehner is Professor of English & Gender and Women’s Studies, Student Equity Co-Chair at Ohlone College, and a Member of NADE and the NADE IRW Network.



The purpose of the IRW Network is to provide opportunities for educators to communicate information associated with IRW pedagogy, connect with other practitioners whose goals include using reading and writing strategies to support and inform one another in both theory and practice, make explicit to students and one another the connections between reading and writing, collaborate with educators and administrators in exploring the ways in which IRW can benefit students across disciplines, and promote student success by sharing both tested best practices and emerging strategies in IRW.

The IRW Network welcomes insights from, and collaboration with, members from across other NOSS Committees and Networks as we continue to delve into and discover the benefits of embedding IRW strategies into a variety of academic and student support contexts.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller