Remedial math is only the first barrier to success for California’s community college students. Only 55 percent of community college students passed college-level math courses in fall of 2010, concludes an EdSource analysis, Passing When It Counts. Forty-one percent of black students and 49 percent of Hispanics passed.
At a minimum, degree-seeking students must pass Intermediate Algebra or demonstrate proficiency on a math placement test. Until two years ago, only elementary algebra was necessary.
At a recent conference of the California Mathematics Council Community Colleges, math instructors “discussed a range of strategies, including helping students understand math concepts rather than focusing on formulas, and tying math instruction more closely to the courses of study students are pursuing,” Edsource reports.
Said Santa Rosa Junior College student Jesse Cohen, who has tutored his fellow math students, “Students need more of the why, not only the how and the what.”
Barry Russell, the community colleges’ vice chancellor of academic affairs, said instruction should stress relevance.
. . . many (welding) students don’t understand that welding has a “huge of amount of trigonometry in it.” Math classes, he said, should feature examples specifically related to welding, as well as to other fields that involve math skills, from business to medicine. “If we’re going to require math, then making the connections is more of what we should be about,” Russell said.
Success rates in community college math courses vary significantly across the state: While 69 percent of students passed college math at Merritt College in Oakland, only 34 percent succeeded at West Hills College Coalinga.
Community college instructors are trying to move students quickly through developmental math, reading and writing courses through initiatives such as the California Acceleration Project. Redesigning remedial instruction may carry over to college-level classes.