By SYDNEY RICE with KATHY WADA
—According to dictionary.com, success is defined as “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.” If we apply this definition to education, we notice two distinct pieces. The first is gaining a degree or certificate. The second is accomplishing what a student, individually, has decided to achieve through attending classes and increasing knowledge. Unfortunately, for students enrolled in nontransferrable credit, academic ESL courses in California’s community colleges, reaching a personal goal doesn’t count as success. The only measure of success is whether or not ESL students earn a “C” in Freshman Composition within six terms.
This very narrow definition of success—the ability to pass a Freshman Composition English course—is not only unfair to students; it gives an inaccurate picture of the strength of ESL programs in colleges statewide. Take a look at the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) 2016 Student Success Scorecard:
First, it seems as if the ESL success rate is abysmal. 28.6%? That’s all the success ESL students have??? No wonder programs are often under attack! If a program at my school had only 28% success, I would certainly question whether or not we should keep it. What this number fails to do, however, is to account for different definitions of student success. Remember that the Scorecard looks only at the percentage of ESL students new to the system who pass Freshman Composition within six terms. What about students who need longer than six terms to learn the academic English skills they need to succeed? Not counted. What about students who decide to stop taking English for a while but take other college courses instead? Nope. They are not successful even if they pass those non-English courses. How about students who go from ESL to CTE programs in which Freshman Composition is not a requirement of obtaining a certificate? Not included in the Scorecard. What about students who want higher levels of English—doctors, engineers, successful businesspeople in their home countries—who want the rigor that college-level ESL courses offer? These successful people are Scorecard failures unless they complete Freshman Composition within the designated six years.
Why is it important to know your Scorecard? Because, as they say, knowledge is power. By knowing how the Scorecard measures success, we can respond effectively and appropriately to concerns that ESL programs are not successful. We can also dig deeper into the data and provide a clearer, more accurate picture of our students’ success, and by extension, the success of our programs. In a data-driven educational culture such as ours, understanding and explaining the data lets us become knowledgeable, and powerful, advocates for millions of Californians who are learning English and working to make a better life for themselves and their families throughout the state. Our students’ success deserves to be counted. But until there are changes in how the Scorecard metrics are defined, we must be equipped to show others what they are not seeing: Our students are learning, they are achieving success, and they deserve to be counted.
Sydney Rice teaches at Imperial Valley College and Kathy Wada at Cypress College.
California Community Colleges. (2013). Student success initiative: Student success scorecard. Retrieved from http://scorecard.cccco.edu/scorecardrates.aspx?CollegeID=000#home
Dictionary.com. (2017). Success. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/