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Promising Results of New Intensive Approach to Developmental Math

Math is a stumbling block for many community college students. Often, they arrive on campus unprepared for college-level work, get placed in developmental classes, and never really progress.

Promising results from a new, intensive approach to teaching developmental math were released today from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In its new Community College Pathways model, students needing remedial help take a yearlong course for three to five hours a week that includes relevant problem solving, a literacy component, and motivational activities to increase tenacity.

The initial results show the success rate of students in developmental math tripled and the gains were achieved in just one year, rather than the two or more years often required. Typically, after one year only about 6 percent of remedial-level students earn college math credit and 15 percent get it after two years. With the CCP Statway course, 51 percent of college students earned math credit in the first year.

"It's essential that math be a gateway to opportunity, not a gatekeeper," said Tony Bryk, the president of the Stanford, Calif.-based foundation, in a media call this afternoon.

Carnegie piloted the CCP program in the 2011-2012 school year with 1,133 students on 19 community college campuses and two state universities in five states. Of the students in the classes, 78 percent were at least two more[CA: Do you mean "two or more"?-dv] levels below a college-level math course. More than two-thirds of the students were minorities and 45 percent were from a home where a language other than English was spoken.

Those demographics led the researchers to include literacy in the math class to make sure language was not a barrier to students understanding the math concepts. Activities around motivation also were designed to boost the confidence and resilience of students, as most of the students were the first in their families to attend college.

Also, unique to the model was the faculty collaboration. Community college professors worked together to develop the curriculum and then present in front of each other to refine their teaching methods. The class emphasized opportunities to engage deeply with the math concepts rather than memorize them and data analysis of results of formative assessments was used to make sure students understood the material as it was presented. Some students reported the approach helped them gain critical-thinking skills that were applicable to their everyday life, the researchers said today.

John Kellermeier, mathematics professor at Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, Washington, helped develop a condensed 10-week CCP course on his campus that met five days a week for two hours a day. He says the intensity was the key. "They are learning the material, they are investing time and energy in ways that aren't typical for a mathematics class," he says."They are walking away from this experience knowing they can handle mathematics." In the spring, 74 percent of the students in the course at Tacoma were successful, earning college math credit for their work.

Carnegie is encouraged with the initial findings, but developers say the challenge is to scale up the program and maintain success as the approach is used on more campuses.

Colleges are eager for new ways to get students through developmental courses and boost college completion. Between 60 and 70 percent of incoming community college students are required to enroll in at least one developmental math course to get up to speed for a credit-bearing class. Nearly 80 percent of those students fail and are not able to complete college, according to information provided by Carnegie. New research reported by Sarah Sparks finds that many students who test into remedial classes in college don't really need them.

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