SAN DIEGO—Anthony Rodriguez recalled sitting in a remedial math class at Grossmont College, bored out of his mind. The professor was teaching basic math skills that the 18-year-old had already learned in high school.
Rodriguez was forced into remedial math by the community college’s placement test, which assesses a student’s ability to succeed in for-credit, higher-education classes. Rodriguez’s placement-test scores dictated at least a year of these low-level math courses. They cost the same as regular classes but don’t count toward a bachelor’s degree.
Each week, Rodriguez watched as fewer and fewer classmates showed up. Eventually, he dropped out too.
“Who goes to college to learn what they were doing in high school?” he asked.
In California, the answer is—a staggering number of people. Hundreds of thousands of community-college students are placed in remedial classes every year, and few get past them, especially few black and Latino students.
“There is no excuse for this,” said Julianna Barnes, the president of Cuyamaca College. “It really is a civil rights issue.”
An analysis of California community-college data by The Hechinger Report and inewsource, both of which produced this story in partnership with The Atlantic, yielded stark results. Only 1 percent of African-American students and 2 percent of Latino students who enrolled in the lowest level of remedial math in 2014 made it through an entry-level college math class within two years (the amount of time it’s supposed to take to earn a full associate’s degree).