Thursday, July 17, 2014

Math Initiatives for Student Success

The LearningWorks paper Changing Equations: How Community Colleges Are Re-thinking College Readiness in Math, written by Pamela Burdman, is a nice summary of current initiatives attempting to help capable students negotiate developmental math needs to succeed in transfer-level mathematics.

Much of the paper discusses the strategy of alternative pathways. In this strategy, students pass a course that is identical to, or has the same content and rigor of, accepted transfer math courses, but instead of first passing an intermediate algebra course, the students take a math course designed specifically to prepare them for the transfer course—that preparatory course omits some standard topics of intermediate algebra which are not necessary to succeed in the transfer math course.

The initial data on alternative pathways, some cited in Changing Equations, show that a much higher percentage of students initially placed in a developmental math course can pass a transfer level math course following an alternative pathway than by following the traditional chain of prerequisites. 

But both the University of California and the California State University systems require that intermediate algebra be a prerequisite for any transferable course. Keeping the intermediate algebra prerequisite based on the data that have shown success in intermediate algebra is a predictor of college success is, as pointed out in Changing Equations, following the error of confusing correlation with causation, and in fact the widespread practice of requiring success in intermediate algebra (a.k.a. Algebra 2) as a admissions requirement virtually guarantees the high correlation that has been often noted.

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