Getting students over the biggest hurdle to success in college

Two new approaches from Washington state

Math can be a huge barrier for students who would otherwise be very successful in college and in life, Katherine Long writes for the Seattle Times.

According to Long, half of Washington state's students entering community college are funneled into remedial math classes that few are likely to move beyond.

Last year, a report from Complete College America found that fewer than 10% of students required to complete remedial courses before enrolling in for-credit courses graduated community college within three years.

Expert insight: Developmental math is the greatest barrier to our nation's completion goals

To alleviate the crisis, Washington recently launched a math strategic plan that asks all community and technical colleges in the state to experiment with new ways to deliver math classes.

Seattle Central College is focusing on the more-practical statistics instead of algebra, using the Statway program created by the Carnegie Foundation. Compared to a traditional class, a study found that three times as many students finished—and they finished in half the time—when using a Statway program like the one at Seattle Central.

Statway incorporates the kind of statistics people encounter in everyday life, like those from polls and studies. "It's more like real-life math," one student told the Times. "It's the first time I've ever used the word 'interesting' to describe a math class."

Fourteen other colleges are offering "emporium math," which sticks to traditional algebra but allows students to progress at their own pace through the course. The instruction also looks a little different: during classes, students watch videos on computers, work independently on problems, and request help from tutors when they run into trouble.

At Big Bend Community College, students like the approach because they can speed through sections that come naturally and slow down for those that are more difficult. The school even reports that demand for higher-level math classes is rising—calculus has a waiting list for the first time ever.

The creative approaches appear to be paying off. At Seattle Central, 84% of students passed Statway in 2013-2014—compared with only 15% of students in the traditional math sequence.

And at Big Bend, 69% of students passed the emporium Algebra II class, compared with only 50% of students in the traditional class (Long, "Education Lab," Seattle Times, 9/5).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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