Passionate Debate Over Placement Policy

The Guardsman

Sarah Bloomberg

A placement test pilot proposal that will affect thousands of incoming and current students is coming to City College within a year, but deciding on a timeline for implementation became an emotional and contentious debate.

After two hours of intense public comment and discussion, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved implementing the English department’s pilot proposal, called Placement Plus One.

The pilot will become one of the multiple measures used by counselors to help students figure out what math and English courses to take at City College.

State law mandates that community colleges use multiple measures to assess students’ academic proficiency for enrollment purposes.

Multiple measures can include a combination of placement tests, high school transcripts, attendance records and one-on-one conversations between a student and an advisor. The results cannot be used to exclude anyone from being admitted to a community college.

All assessments must be approved by the state chancellor’s office.

Placement Plus One will allow students to enroll in a course up to one level higher than they test into.
Placing into English 96, for example, could allow a student to enroll in English 1A, although they would “still need to talk to a counselor,” Assessment and Prerequisites Coordinator Kitty Moriwaki, of Matriculation Services, said.

Anger over timelines

While the merits of the proposal weren’t in question, the polemics at the board meeting revolved around the implementation  timeline and the process of shared governance.

English department faculty expressed concerns about the language of the resolution, which stated that the proposal would be implemented “commencing with students being admitted to Fall 2012 classes.”

Instructor Jim Sauvé told the board that implementing the policy for fall 2012 would entail having the program ready to roll out by June 23, because that’s when registration for the fall semester begins.

However, represented by the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, faculty are contractually off-work during summer session.

In response, speakers representing Students Making a Change, who had endorsed the new policy when it was presented by the English department at the Student Preparation and Success Committee on April 3, insisted that the Placement Plus One policy be implemented immediately.

“We cannot wait any longer,” said Marjory Ruiz, a member of SMAC .

Trustee Steve Ngo blasted the English department faculty for requesting more time, pointing out that the math department hadn’t needed any extra time.

He insisted that English faculty work on developing the program over the summer and accept funds from Bridge to Success, a program run by the city of San Francisco, as compensation.

“They’d still have to volunteer” to work over the summer, Sauvé said.

English department chair Jessica Brown defended her faculty and department.

“We don’t like being bullied and pushed,” she said.

At a general English department meeting held two days earlier on April 24, Dean of Liberal Arts Bob Davis acknowledged the frustrations of the faculty.

“Shared governance was violated” on this issue, Davis said, but “let’s try to find a way to move forward.”

Finding a compromise

Near the end of the board meeting, several speakers, including Board Vice President Anita Grier, asked that everyone work together toward a compromise.

Board President John Rizzo asked representatives from matriculation and the English department what a realistic timeline would look like.

“We should implement in phases,” Vice Chancellor of Student Development Lyndi McKnight said, indicating that the policy could not be fully implemented for both current and incoming students by fall.

Trustee Chris Jackson proposed amending the resolution to give faculty time to develop the policy during the fall semester so that full implementation would be possible for spring 2013 enrollment. After further discussion, the board unanimously approved the revised resolution.

Both English department Chair Jessica Brown and Academic Senate President Karen Saginor agreed to the final language of the resolution.

Legislation related to the Student Success Task Force, known as SB1456 or the Student Success Act of 2012, is also currently being reviewed at the state level. That legislation could affect matriculation and testing policies at community colleges in the near future.

For now though, the board’s resolution stands.

In a telephone interview with The Guardsman, Marjory Ruiz and Juan Segundo, both members of SMAC, commended the English faculty for their work on creating the Placement Plus One proposal.

The Guardsman