Rethinking stress at test time

Developmental math students can rethink stress in order to do their best on tests, writes Jeremy Jamieson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, on Carnegie Commons.

Jamieson researches ways to help students deal with stress in partnership with Aaron Altose, an assistant math professor at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. They form an “Alpha Lab” team.

As a Quantway instructor, Altose tries to help students who’ve struggled with math develop a positive mindset. He’s learned that giving students information about how to prepare for tests doesn’t prevent test anxiety.

We talk about the proper amount of time to spend studying, finding the right environment, eating and sleeping well, and not cramming before a test. I’ve tried guiding students through progressive muscle relaxation before tests. I had a constantly evolving PowerPoint presentation comprised of information and articles I found online about understanding the ‘fight or flight’ response and high-pressure performers like Air Force pilots and emergency room doctors. But students sitting down to take a math test seemed to never take this information to heart.

Teaching people to see stress as a potentially useful coping mechanism can improve performance, research has found. Instead of trying to avoid stress, students can see it as a sign they’re ready for a challenge. In an Alpha Lab experiment, students were asked to inventory their feelings and emotions immediately before they take an exam. Then they read summaries of scientific articles highlighting the adaptive benefits of stress. “I know before a test, I just feel bad, but maybe what I really feel is determined,” one student said.

‘When you struggle, you’re growing’

Developmental math students often expect to fail, writes Gay Clyburn on the Carnegie Commons blog. Many believe in gender or race stereotypes about who’s “a math person” and who isn’t.

Carnegie’s alternative math pathways — Statway in statistics and Quantway in quantitative reasoning— teach students that ability is malleable. A “Starting Strong” exercise is designed to mitigate what David Yeager calls “learned helplessness.” Students read an article explaining that neuroscience shows that, with enough effort, they can grow their brain.
brain-workout

Just reading this article on brain growth has shown a significant  effect on student persistence and success in a randomized trial, says Yeager.

Statway and Quantway have tripled success rates for remedial math students in half the time, reports Clyburn. “Carnegie has been able to maintain this level of student accomplishment, even as the initiative has grown to include new colleges, new faculty, and many more students over the past three years.”

At the annual Community College Pathways National Forum,  Yeager urged instructors to create a class culture that expects success. Students need praise after accomplishment (not before), frequent encouragement and continuous feedback, he said.

Students should be told the brain is like a muscle, Yeager said.  “The more you use it, the better it works.” Or, “the more you practice, the smarter you become.”

He recommended phrases to use, such as “when you struggle, then you’re growing.”

Scared of math

Math anxiety – fear that prevents learning — starts young, writes Dan Willingham,  a University of Virginia psychology professor, in RealClearEducation. Half of first and second graders feel moderate to severe math anxiety. By college, 25 percent of university students — and 80 percent of community college students — suffer from math anxiety.

Anxiety distracts. It’s hard to focus on the math because your mind is preoccupied with concern that you’ll fail, that you’ll look stupid, and so on. Every math problem is a multi-tasking situation, because all the while the person is trying to work the problem, he’s also preoccupied with anxious thoughts.

“Children who have trouble with basic numeric skills — counting, appreciating which of two numbers is the larger—are at greater risk for developing math anxiety,” he writes.

But math anxiety also is learned from anxious adultsIf an elementary teacher is nervous about her math skills, her students are more likely to be anxious. They conclude “it’s hard not because you’re inexperienced and need more practice, but because lots of people (maybe including you) just can’t do it.” They conclude they’re just not “math people.”

Carnegie’s new approach to remedial math is trying to take the fear out of math for poorly prepared community college students, reports Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic.

Carnegie’s Community College Pathways Program has developed two one-year courses for students who’d otherwise be in remedial math. Statway blends basic algebra and college-level statistics. Quantway teaches developmental math in the first semester, then moves on to college-level quantitative reasoning.

Both tackle students’ math anxiety and their belief that they’re “just not math people,” says Bernadine Chuck Fong, who directs the developmental math initiative. “If we don’t change how they see themselves, they’re going to realize a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Instructors stress the value of “productive struggle.” Struggling with the material means you’re learning and growing.

Acceleration works!

California’s community colleges must accelerate teaching for remedial students to give more students a shot at success, writes Gary K. Hart, a former state senator and board member of the Campaign for College Opportunity, in the Sacramento Bee.

More than 70 percent of entering community college students are unprepared for college-level work. Most drop out.

Why such a high failure rate? Too often remedial courses are a repeat of high school classes involving tedious drills and low standards that already haven’t worked for students. Poorly prepared students become bored and discouraged, especially since they earn no college credits during their multiple semesters of remedial work.

Faculty members created the California Acceleration Project to develop innovative courses using challenging, relevant materials. Students can complete college English and math requirements in one year.

Instead of filling in the blanks in grammar workbooks, students are writing essays about the ethics of controversial psychology experiments. Instead of word problems about two trains traveling toward each other, they’re analyzing real-life data from pregnant women to identify factors correlated with low birth weights.

CAP students’ odds of completing college-level English more than doubled and their odds of completing college math were more than four times higher than regular remedial students, according to a recent study.

Accelerated English courses are improving success rates at Chabot College, according to the Community College Research Center at Teachers’ College, Columbia.

Carnegie’s Statway, an accelerated math program, is producing gains at  American River College in Sacramento, Hart adds.

. . . why isn’t accelerated remediation offered at all California’s community colleges? Why are most students still stuck in the traditional system and dropping out at high rates? There are some modest retooling costs that are necessary, but the major problem seems to be inertia and a failure of imagination.

. . . Two years ago the Legislature adopted and Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law with great fanfare the California Community College Student Success Act, which includes important initiatives such as campus-by-campus student progress scorecards, a more consistent assessment system, and new funding structures for services such as student orientation and counseling. They are all important reforms, yet curricular redesign and a focus on effective teaching strategies were absent. I believe until the heart of the education process is addressed (what is taught and how it is taught), our community college reforms will fall short, and large numbers of students who deserve a chance to work hard and earn a degree will continue to be casualties of a dysfunctional system.

Accelerated remediation should be available to all students, not just the lucky few, concludes Hart.

Statway offers path to college math

The traditional path to college-level math was a dead end for many students at Pierce College, reports Jason Song for the Los Angeles Times. So the community college is trying the Carnegie Foundation’s alternative path to math success, an algebra-and-statistics mix called Statway.

Catalina Daneshfar needs to pass algebra to transfer to a state university. Placed in remedial math at Pierce, she’d hired a tutor and still ended up with a D.

This year, she earned an A in the first semester of Statway. She’s on schedule to earn enough credits to transfer to a Cal State University campus next year.  “Statway saved my life,” Daneshfar said. “At the very least, it saved me from another year of school.”

Math is one of the biggest obstacles to success for California’s community college students, reports the Times.

About 73% of freshmen at community colleges need remedial math, according to state statistics, and only about a third of these students end up transferring to a four-year school or graduating with an associate’s degree, according to state figures.

The numbers are worse at Pierce, where only about 13% of students pass enough math courses to transfer, according to professors.

About half of Pierce’s Statway students earn a C or better. That lets them fulfill transfer requirements more quickly than typical remedial students.

The course covers basic and remedial algebra as well as statistics in two semesters and is designed for students who plan to major in liberal arts or non-science fields. Transferring Pierce students normally have to take three semesters of math, generally two semesters of algebra and an elective.

The Cal State system accepts Statway for transfer credit on a temporary basis, but the University of California does not. “So far, Statway has not reached the level of quality we expect,” said George Johnson, a UC Berkeley mechanical engineering professor who has reviewed courses.

Including Pierce, six California community colleges offer Statway: American River College near Sacramento, Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Diablo Valley College in Contra Costa County, Foothill College in Los Altos Hills and San Diego City College.

First comes math

Virginia community colleges have redesigned remediation, said Chancellor Glenn Dubois at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference. In First Comes Math, a panel discussed the remediation crisis at community colleges.

Seventy-two percent of new community college students were placed in developmental math in 2006, according to Achieving the Dream, a reform group. Three years later, 77 percent had not qualified for a college-level math course.

“Remediation is an access issue,” Dubois said. Columbia University’s Community College Resource Center studied the Virginia community colleges, finding that 75 percent of remedial students “will ultimately go nowhere.”

Math instructors helped shift course requirements to match students’ goals: Students in non-STEM majors don’t need as much math.

After one year in full effect across Virginia’s 23 community colleges, many more students are completing remediation courses – in a matter of months, not years – and advancing to college courses, Dubois said. “You can’t try to do these things at scale unless your faculty are on board and, in our case, we gave them a leadership role.”

Since adjuncts teach most remedial courses, Dubois is trying to raise the status of remediation faculty and provide more support and training. But that takes money, he said. 

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching created Pathways, alternative developmental math curricula that focus on statistics and quantitative reasoning. In the first two years, more than 50 percent of students earned college math credit in one year. That compares to only 5 percent of community college students in traditional developmental math.

‘Interstate Passport’ will aid transfers

Colleges in Hawaii, North Dakota, Oregon and Utah have reached agreement on a way to define learning outcomes, reports Inside Higher Ed. The Interstate Passport, a joint project of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, will help students transfer a block of general education credits within the western region.

Signers include: Leeward Community College and University of Hawai‘i West Oahu, in Hawaii; Lake Region State College, North Dakota State College of Science, North Dakota State University and Valley City State University, in North Dakota; Blue Mountain Community College and Eastern Oregon University, in Oregon; and Dixie State University, Salt Lake Community College, Snow College, Southern Utah University, the University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley College.

Statway leads to success

Carnegie’s alternatives to remedial math — Statway and Quantway – are raising success rates at more colleges, according to the Community College Pathways: 2012-2013 Descriptive Report.

More than 60 percent of community college students are required to take at least one remedial math course:  80 percent of students who place into developmental math do not pass college-level math within three years.

According to the report:

  • 52 percent of the 853 Statway community college students successfully completed the year-long pathway (received a grad of C or better in the final term). This is consistent with the results of 49 percent in Year 1 (2011-2012).
  • Statway expanded to two additional colleges within the California State University (CSU) system adding a total of 204 students.
  • 75 percent of CSU Statway students successfully completed the pathway, comparable with 74 percent in Year 1.
  • The number of students enrolled in Quantway 1 tripled from Year 1 for a total of 1,402 enrolled.
  • Quantway 2, the second semester of the pathway, was launched for the first time at three community colleges with 49 students.
  • 52 percent of students successfully completed Quantway 1, demonstrating continued positive outcomes with 56 percent in Year 1.
  • In its first semester, 68 percent of students successfully completed Quantway 2.

Enrollment in the two pathways rose significantly in the second year of the project.

Getting past algebra

Algebra scares many community college students, writes Sophie Quinton in National Journal. Two-thirds place into remedial math. Fewer than one in four who start below the college level earn a certificate or degree in eight years.

Arica Hawley used to dread math class. She would look at problems and not even know where to begin. When Hawley, 37, went back to Tacoma (Wash.) Community College last fall to finish her associate’s degree, she placed into a pre-algebra course—eighth-grade-level material.

Students who test two or three levels below Algebra II, which is considered college math, have to pass several remedial courses before they can start earning college credit. “It eats up time and financial aid, especially when we have students who have to retake those courses three, four, and five times,” says John Kellermeier, a TCC math instructor.

Instead of remedial math, Hawley took Statway, a college-level statistics course for students who haven’t mastered high school math. She earned a college math credit.

The Carnegie Foundation developed two one-year courses — Statway and a quantitative-reasoning course called Quantway — to get students out of the remedial rut. Statway includes high school algebra and college-level statistics. Quantway starts with developmental math, but moves to college-level quantitative reasoning in the second semester.

Both courses allow faculty to teach algebra relevant to the college-level material, and to public debates and questions students will face in the workforce. In Statway, students learn to read graphs, determine probability, and detect bias in data. They brainstorm ways to prove or disprove theories, like the assertion by astrologers that birth dates determine personality traits.

Students are grouped into threes or fours and may stay in those groups throughout the course. The groups work through the material together every day, and are responsible for keeping each other up to speed.

. . . The courses also include exercises that address math anxiety. Many students believe they’re just not ‘math people.’ “If we don’t change how they see themselves, they’re going to realize a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Bernadine Chuck Fong, the director of Carnegie’s developmental math initiative.

Statway was launched in the fall of 2011 at 19 community colleges and two state universities. Fifty-one percent of students earned a college credit within a year, compared to 5.9 percent of community college students who start in remedial math.

Thirty campuses in 11 states now are implementing Statway and 22 are using Quantway.

Students do better when they believe they can succeed, feel that they belong in the classroom, and feel connected to their peers and teacher, says Fong.

Carnegie puts Quantway online

Carnegie’s new approach to remedial math is going online. NovoEd and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching will offer a free online short course called Numbers for Life. It includes four lessons from Carnegie’s Quantway®.

These lessons will develop your understanding of common numbers often found in the news, on advertisements, and online.  You will see how numbers play important roles in arguments you hear about daily like issues such as gun control, smoking, pollution, and heart attacks.  And by the end of this course, you’ll be able to use numbers to communicate your ideas.

. . . The goal of the Quantway® is to help you learn things that you can actually use in life–not so you can memorize it for a test and then forget it. In fact, by the end of this course, you’ll be able to create a final project that uses numbers to prove a point to anyone who sees it.

Seventy percent of students placed in a traditional remedial math course never complete the course. Community college students taking Quantway® tripled the success rate in half the time, according to Carnegie.