Basic Skills Initiative Work - We Have Gone Far and Deep!

Basic Skills Committee

The Basic Skills Initiative (BSI) project has increased and improved awareness, training, institutional organization and educational practices over the last four years. Some of the milestones accomplished by the professional grant collaborative efforts are included in the sidebar.

Curricular work and discussions, work done to craft metrics that are actionable and widely understood, specific attention to action planning and incorporation of equity plans -- these are enormously important outcomes of the Initiative. The result has been institutional reform unlike any other effort in our system. This was accomplished through collegial work where each contributor was respected for his/her expertise and a common message was forged.

The focus has been on student success and efforts have been invested in understanding the students before us in the seats; not the students we wish were in the seats. College communities have examined data and addressed issues that are essential to the future of our educational system and to California’s future.

Specifically, how has this improved any basic skills issues in California?

Two stories:

Story #1: Bakersfield College served as a pilot for one of the first regional BSI trainings. Miya Squires, a basic skills coordinator from Butte College, presented a breakout on Critical Academic Skills which Bakersfield College adopted and adapted to their basic skills strategies along with other strategies, such as First Year Experience, Summer Accelerated Programs, Reading Apprenticeship and learning communities. The Critical Academic Skills effort is diagnostic allowing students to address discrete basic skills needs in particular areas rather than taking entire basic skills courses. Discipline faculty developed free 50- and 80-minute workshops addressing discrete skills such as punctuation problems, thesis development, word problems in math, fractions, etc. Throughout the semester classroom faculty assess student skills in classroom assignments and then refer students to the Critical Academic Skills workshops offered multiple times throughout the semester. Students hone basic skills in short workshops while continuing on their educational trajectory. The sessions, attended by more than 1300 students in 2008-2009, were taught by 10-15 full-time and adjunct faculty from several disciplines, covering 15 topics including mathematic, English, communication, study skills, and learning strategies to help students be successful in college. Student and faculty assessment responses indicated this is a highly useful strategy supporting student success as students pursue their academic goals.

Story#2: Using the CB 21 rubric concept of levels prior to transfer developed by California community college faculty, Cabrillo College researcher Craig Hayward analyzed data from 23 colleges on the assessment level of incoming students. When BSI first started, faculty and administrators found it hard to believe that more than 75% of our incoming students needed basic skills work. As colleges examined their own data some found, like one college, that 95% of their incoming students need basic skills work in English and 98% in mathematics. This is consistent with the data being reported by the California State University (CSU) for high school students that are CSU qualified taking the Early Assessment Program (EAP) in their junior year where 83% of CSU-bound students were not ready for transfer level English. Craig’s research provided yet another picture that expanded our understanding of California’s basic skills needs with regards to the depth of that need. Of those students assessed by the 23 colleges 42% were two or more levels below transfer in English and 64% more than two levels below transfer in mathematics. Over 70% of those assessed were three or more levels below transfer level in ESL. These data emphasize that this is not a quick fix situation; there is no magic bullet to correct the basic skills challenge. But with the extensive library of basic skills practices promoted through BSI we have a variety of methods to meet not only the breadth of the need but also the depth. We have data that helps us to understand the situation and we have educated and mobilized people in vast numbers across the state to address basic skills.

In total these activities will serve to improve student success and make institutional changes that will support student progress. This work is innovative and revolutionary; nothing like it exists in other states in terms of the number of colleges, number of students, and budget challenges. We must support and protect this basic skills work during the budget crises because we know through the downstream funding equation that it is more efficacious to start these students right and attend to their basic skills needs because our data reveal that students attending to basic skills needs are much more likely to succeed with degrees, certificates and transfer than those students that try to skip these essential skills and eventually never meet their goals. Investing in basic skills is an investment in success for our students, our system and our state.

Basic Skills Initiative Milestones

  • The literature review of effective practices in basic skills
  • A searchable online effective practice web resource at
  • The basic skills handbook, a compendium of useful pedagogical tools and information
  • The CB 21 rubric project that aligned and defined basic skills levels and pathways
  • The basic skills coordinator role providing a central advocate and facilitator
  • New understanding of the important role of noncredit in basic skills education and accountability
  • Additional literature reviews on the transition from high school and adult education to college
  • An effort to examine assessment, prerequisites and other key issues to lever better student success
  • Regional basic skills professional development training for thousands of faculty and administrators
  • Personalized follow-up presentations at dozens of colleges
  • College teams that analyzed student equity plans while addressing basic skills action plans

Development of measures for the Accountability Reporting for Community Colleges (ARCC) Basic Skills supplemental report that better define success, progress and where intervention can be most effective

Resources through “Workshops to go,” sending tactical teams to colleges

New papers on the essential role of equity in basic skills success

Do you have your copy of the Basic Skills Handbook Yet? Constructing a Framework for Success: A Holistic Approach to Basic Skills

The Basic Skills Handbook is now available and being distributed. Two copies will be sent to every college library, so keep your eyes out for its arrival. Copies with the chapter summaries and entire handbook on CD are available for free upon request. Simply contact the Academic Senate Office at info [at] to request a copy.

This handbook was designed to educate, empower and equip faculty, administrators and staff to better serve students with basic skills needs. Now is the time to move forward by utilizing the California community college specific resources and strategies described in the handbook. The handbook contains an abundance of downloadable classroom strategies and assessment tools produced by over 100 faculty and administrators from across the state. These include classroom strategies, effective assignments or teacher-friendly suggestions for planning, assigning and grading student work in the basic skills disciplines of English as a second language, English, mathematics, and reading. There are also chapters on the important counseling, library and other student service strategies to promote basic skills success.

Do you need help to better train all those on your campuses who interface with students with basic skills needs? Do you need to know how to integrate the writing and assessing of student learning outcomes with your basic skills work? Do you have questions about how to help students to reach their educational goals at the appropriate rigor? This handbook will provide you with guidance and the necessary resources for success.