This is the fourth article in a multi-part series about math in high school and college leading to completion of a degree or certificate. The first article focused on math and high school preparation, the second on developmental/remedial math, the third on math and STEM.
USHE institutions have been working at finding better ways to deliver courses in remedial math, also called developmental math, that improves passage rates without compromising rigor. Many models have only been implemented within the past few years and data is starting to point to some emerging possibilities using improved delivery methods and leveraging of technology. Weber State University and Utah Valley University, in particular, have been finding successes using new models.
Weber State University
Starting in 2010-11, WSU appears to have done the most extensive implementation of various types of developmental math courses among USHE institutions:
2010-2012: Technology Enhanced Redesign of Mathematics (TERM) – Also called the emporium model, students meet in a classroom one day a week with an instructor and have mandatory 100 minutes additional instructional time in the computer lab where they can ask questions and receive help in learning the material. All courses saw a significant drop in pass rates due to a number of revealing factors:
- Student hesitancy to learn via computer.
- Perception they are left “on their own” to learn math, one of the most difficult subjects in college.
- Resistance to engaging with a tutor or teacher in the computer lab.
- Procrastination due to a lack of deadlines and messaging that students could take the time they needed to learn the material.
A “rollover” was given to students who did not finish the course in one semester, allowing them to carry over completed work to the next semester. However, “Math on your own TERMs” became “Math at your own leisure.” Most failing grades were due to students not working the entire semester. The overall pass rate for the two years was 37 percent. The Emporium model did not work well for Weber State as implemented.
2012-13: Flipped Math – WSU introduced two sections of the Flipped model in fall semester and five sections spring semester. These courses use the same computer-based software as the TERM course, but meet in class four hours per week for instruction and homework exercises in small groups. Flipped courses provide students with the needed structure to stay on schedule and more access to their own instructor. Overall pass rate for the year in Flipped classes was 55 percent. Improvements were made to the TERM program to encourage students to make a consistent effort through the entire semester and to ask more questions in the hub. More students completed the course successfully by working on the course all semester. A full-time departmental adviser and learning strategist was hired and the overall department pass rate increased 6 percentage points over the previous year.
2013-2014: Pathway to Contemporary Math – This course is a prerequisite for Math 1030. In a collaborative classroom, the course is based on the Pathways model developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching which focuses on contextual, or real life math use. Most work is paper/pencil, with some practice exercises on the computer. The pilot pass rate was 62 percent. Again, the overall department pass rate increased 6 percentage points over the previous year.
2014-2015: R.E.A.L. Prealgebra (Real-world Explorations. Active Learning.) – The R.E.A.L. course provides a learning environment similar to the Pathway course for Math 950 students. The overall department pass rate increased another 6 percentage points over the previous year.
Lessons Learned at WSU:
All of these models are still considered pilots as specialists at Weber State continue to explore new innovations and make targeted adjustments that maintain the delicate balance between student improvement and appropriate rigor. All of the models have shown notable increases in the passage rates of students:
2014-2015 Pass Rate
(1 smstr pilot)
Another indicator is success rate, the percentage of students who completed the entire course with a passing grade. The success rate of all of WSU developmental courses now stands between 80 and 85 percent. These data stand as a lesson to all: student success is greatly improved when students persist in their studies and persevere in a course to its conclusion at the end of the semester. WSU continues to develop strategies to improve student perseverance.
The Emporium model (TERM) was not a silver bullet for Weber State. Although it did work for more mature and self-motivated students, it failed for the majority of students. However, because students have a variety of learning styles and needs, student success was improved by offering a variety of developmental course options. The Flipped model improved on the Emporium model by including deadlines, increased structure, improved contextual instruction and student support. Pathway to Contemporary Math is finding great success and focusing on contextual, or real life math use. R.E.A.L. is providing a similar experience at the prealgebra level by teaching students contextually.
Moving ahead at WSU, students are learning as much as possible from successful math educational research, programs elsewhere, and implementing evidence-based practices. With strong assessment of student success, continued improvements and new innovations like R.E.A.L., marked improvement in math student success at Weber State are occurring.
Information contributed by David Matty, Ph.D., Dean, College of Science and Kathryn Van Wagoner, Director, Developmental Math Program.