Monday, May 15, 2017
Creating New Opportunities: Transforming College Mathematics from Gatekeeper to Gateway

By Karon Klipple, Executive Director of Carnegie Math Pathways

klipple Five years of classroom data show that students enrolled in the Carnegie Math Pathways’™ two accelerated developmental math programs – Statway® and Quantway® – outperform their peers in course completion, college credit attainment, and transfer rates.

Newly released impact studies from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching show that Statway and Quantway students consistently succeed at triple and double the rate of students in traditional remedial sequences, and do so in half the time that it takes their traditionally remediated peers. And among institutions offering Carnegie Math Pathways as accelerated co-requisites, early evidence shows comparable and in some cases even higher success rates.  Pathways students are also much more likely to transfer from two-year to four-year colleges than all students enrolled in community colleges during the same period.

Developmental education was originally intended as a gateway to a college degree for students who needed more preparation for college-level work but has instead become a gatekeeper.  Nationally, about 60 percent of first-time community college freshmen are assigned to developmental math, yet only 20 percent of them successfully complete their remedial requirements and then a college-level math class within three years, according to a study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. A report released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education found that even at our nation’s public four year universities, roughly 30% of students require remediation.

The thousands who don’t successfully complete developmental and college-level math may never achieve their college and career goals, and that comes at a huge cost. The Department of Education report estimates that students and their families pay about $1.3 billion annually for courses that don’t count toward a degree. These students are disproportionately low-income, Hispanic, black, English learners, and the first in their families to attend college.

There are a number of efforts across the country to reverse this high failure rate, but Statway and Quantway stand out because they were designed to meet rigorous learning outcomes developed in partnership with national mathematics and statistics professional societies, and because they are adaptable by colleges to meet the needs of their different student demographics and school resources, allowing the initiative to spread without losing its effectiveness.  Since beginning as a pilot program in 2011-12, Pathways has achieved and sustained high success rates even as enrollment quadrupled – enrolling more than 20,000 students over five years – and school participation has expanded to more than 60 community colleges and four-year institutions.

Simply put: these students are no longer denied an opportunity for a better life. These gains are across the board for students of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, as well as both male and female students.

Student-Centered Design

When the Carnegie Foundation took on this huge social justice issue, it assembled a working group of college math instructors, academic researchers, and administrators into a Networked Improvement Community, or NIC. Their work was guided by the principles of improvement science, an evidence-based, user-focused process.  After researching other programs and interviewing students and instructors, NIC members decided that no amount of tinkering could solve the problem; it needed an overhaul.

They designed the new courses to address specific barriers and challenges that students had with traditional developmental math: taking too long to complete (the typical remedial student is placed two levels – or courses –  below credit-bearing math), not seeing the relevance to their lives, and being taught in the same style that didn’t work for them in the past.

Statway is a two-term statistics course that integrates developmental and college level math, enabling students who complete the entire program to meet their remedial requirements and earn college math credit within one academic year.

Quantway is structured as two separate one-term classes focused on quantitative reasoning.  Quantway 1 is developmental level, and Quantway 2 is college-level.

Faculty learn new pedagogical techniques that require less lecturing and more student engagement. Classes are built around hands-on group work, which has the dual effect of allowing students to learn from each other and develop confidence in a safe environment, while also creating social bonds among students.  Lessons are written around issues that are relevant to the students’ lives.  A class session on random sampling, for example, is illustrated by determining what percentage of students would be willing to pay more for a reserved parking place.

“It helped me think about math in a different way,” said student Dagny Gallo in a video produced by the State University of New York. When Gallo enrolled in college many years after high school, she was concerned that a lifetime of math anxiety would prevent her from earning a degree, but Quantway erased that fear.  “It made sense to me as an older person, who already has life experience with credit cards and paying bills and dealing with mortgages and loans,” said Gallo, “It made me more confident in taking other math courses.”

John Kellermeier’s first reaction after being invited to participate in the NIC was, “You’re saying the things I’ve been preaching about for 20 years.”  Now retired, Kellermeier taught math at Tacoma Community College, one of the original 29 pilot schools in the Statway NIC.  It was quickly successful, and Kellermeier and his colleagues reasoned that if students did so well in a two-term Statway, one-term might be even better, especially for specific groups: low-income students who needed to get through school as quickly and inexpensively as possible; and older, returning students with full-time jobs, and children, and limited time for school.

A one-term course has other benefits. It eliminates the transition point between Statway 1 and Statway 2, where some students tend to drop out, even if they passed the first half.  The appeal, explained Kellermeier, is “bust your butt for a quarter and you’re done.” Tacoma now offers two sections of single-term Statway each quarter, including a night class.

Tacoma Community College provides a strong example of the flexibility embedded in Pathways that both allows the program to spread to many different colleges and provides a structure for experimentation.  It also illustrates the ongoing importance of the NIC as a foundation for continuing to exchange knowledge and learn together through innovation. Other colleges are now also experimenting with accelerated and co-requisite versions of Statway and Quantway, in which students take both sections during the same semester and receive additional academic support.  Early indications from another college that has implemented only single-term Statway is that students outperform their peers in regular remediated courses and are doing just as well as students in traditional two-term Statway at other colleges.

Enduring Benefits

Single-term programs are still being evaluated, but the one-year Pathways program now has five years of data on thousands of students. On average, 49 percent of Statway students complete the pathway and earn college level credit in a single academic year with a grade of C or better, while only 16 percent of students in the traditional sequence complete their developmental math requirements and earn college level credit after two years.  That’s three times as effective in half the time.

The success often has immediate results. In the year after completing Statway, students accumulate 7.81 college-level credits compared to 5.17 credits among comparable non-Statway students – about the equivalent of one 3-unit course. Forty-three percent of Statway students also transfer from two-year to four-year colleges within four or five years of starting, compared to 32 percent (within six years of starting) of community college students at large.

Quantway 1 students have roughly twice the success in half the time as their peers in traditional developmental math: 64 percent pass Quantway 1 in a single term (semester or quarter) compared to 37 percent of non-Quantway remedial students in an entire year. Of the students who succeeded in Quantway 1 and enrolled in Quantway 2, 67 percent passed with a grade or C or better and earned college math credit.

For students who often describe themselves as not having the “math gene,” these accomplishments open new possibilities, such as higher degrees: 46 percent of Quantway students transfer from two-year to four-year colleges within four or five years of starting school, while nationally, 32 percent of all community college students transfer within six years. Quantway students also earn associate degrees or other two-year credentials at a rate of 26 percent compared to 18 percent for all other students at their respective colleges.

Many students are already convinced of Pathways’ effectiveness. During a panel at last July’s Carnegie Math Pathways Forum in San Francisco, one of Kellermeier’s former students put it bluntly. Marco Antonio Flores Garcia had one question for colleges that are hesitant to put Pathways to the test. “Do you really want to help your students?” he asked. “This is the program; it has numbers; their numbers are not going down; their numbers are going up. So, if you guys are all about helping your students, then this is it; this is what you guys have to do.”

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