Reengineering Developmental Math

Accelerating Student Success Through High-Return Personalized Pathways

Topics: Community College, Academic Affairs, Academic Planning, Curriculum Development, Program Approval, Program Prioritization, Student Retention and Success, Developmental and Remedial Education

Prevent Unnecessary Pre-College Placement

Going Modular

Determining Precise Knowledge Gaps Enables Accelerated Remediation

Modular placement exams improve on traditional cut score exams by pinpointing students’ specific deficiencies. Institutions with modified math emporiums or modular curriculum can use these placement exams to reduce developmental requirements and prevent overmathing. For example, a student struggling with rational exponents and radicals is required to complete one four-week module, rather than an entire semester course that reviews more topics than the student needs.

+ Download Graphic

Mainstreaming in Vogue

Policymakers Push for Co-Requisite, Not Frontloaded Remediation

Complete College America is a consortium of state legislators committed to increasing certificate and degree attainment rates across the country. Over the past few years, the organization has brought national attention to the strategy of eliminating front-loaded developmental education in favor of a co-requisite model, otherwise known as mainstreaming. Students who place into developmental education enroll in college coursework, with developmental instructional offered as a supplemental course. A number of four-year universities and two-year colleges have implemented this model and seen a rise in completion rates.

+ Download Graphic

What the Data Says

Big Gains for High Performers, Wrong Answer for Those With Greatest Need

In spring 2012, South Texas College offered developmental students the opportunity to bypass the traditional developmental sequence and enroll directly in college math. Outcomes data varied across developmental levels; upper-level developmental students succeeded while lower-level students struggled to master college content due to unaddressed knowledge gaps. Faculty devoted a huge amount of time to catch students up, prompting administrators to limit future mainstreamed sections to upper-level developmental students only.

Our interviews with faculty revealed that developmental math students are difficult to mainstream into college courses because math is a linear discipline. Students who struggle with basic concepts risk falling further behind as the class learns advanced concepts that rely on early content. Developmental English and writing students are better-suited for mainstreaming into college courses because knowledge gaps can be swiftly remediated. The Community College of Baltimore County first introduced the mainstreaming model for developmental English students and soon saw a 36% increase in college course completion rates for mainstreamed students.

+ Download Graphic

Quadratic Formula Not Top of Mind

Fayetteville Tech Math Refresher Removes Roadblock to Completion for Special Ops

Math refresher courses have sprung up at more than a handful of colleges around the country to help students prepare for academic placement exams. The courses typically last about a week and are voluntary reviews of the math content that will be tested on the placement exam. Despite the popularity of these courses, Community College Forum research revealed that math refreshers are only effective for a specific student subgroup— populations of highly motivated learners.

Math refreshers serve highly motivated students best. Success hinges on voluntary enrollment, attendance, and dedication to an intensive multiday math review. Across colleges, veterans, adult learners, and military personnel were the student groups most likely to jump multiple placement levels after attending math refresher courses.

Fayetteville Technical Community College’s math refresher boot camp for Special Ops students from Fort Bragg demonstrates the effectiveness of these courses for highly motivated students. Before implementing the math refresher program, only 12% of Special Ops students placed into college math, virtually erasing their chances of earning an accelerated associates degree in one year. In 2011, the institution began offering a one-week math boot camp for these students to practice before taking the Accuplacer exam. With the refresher, 92% of students tested into college-math, and all 92% went on to earn a degree.

+ Download Graphic

Placing a (Small) Bet on Standalone MOOCs

Our Hypothesis: Only Most Motivated Benefit from New Online Option

Due to the narrow appeal of math refreshers, we recommend delivering these courses through low-cost modalities, such as emerging massive open online courses, or MOOCs. A 2012 Gates Foundation grant supporting MOOCs for developmental education is expected to herald a new wave of high-quality, freely available math refreshers tailored to meet the needs of community college students.

Wake Technical Community College used their Gates Foundation grant to develop a developmental math MOOC refresher in partnership with Udacity. The Introductory Algebra MOOC was launched in May 2013. The course includes gamified features to engage students and modifications to the regular Udacity platform to meet ADA compliance. Administrators at Wake Tech don’t expect MOOC math refreshers to be the right intervention for all students, but want to offer resources for students with strong self-discipline.

+ Download Graphic

Current Entry Assessments Flawed

Pinpoint Non-Cognitive Barriers to Attainment