Most community college students aren’t ready for college or the workforce concludes a National Center on Education and the Economy study. Colleges have lowered standards to accommodate poorly prepared students, writes the NCEE’s Marc Tucker.
Very little writing at all is required in most programs. The writing that is required is of a very simply sort. Students, for example, are rarely required to argue a position logically and marshal data on behalf of that argument. The typical first year community college text is written at an 11th or 12th level (which one would think would be a year or two below the level of community college), but it turns out that most high school graduates cannot read with comprehension at that level, because the typical high school text is written at the 8th or 9th grade level. So our community college instructors prepare Power Point presentations to make sure that the students get the main points in the text.
Community college students don’t need to know high school math, but they do need middle school math, writes Tucker. Most never really learned it. Some community college vocational programs require math that’s not taught in high school, such as “mathematics modeling, and the ability to read and interpret schematic diagrams and logic diagrams of the sort required for computer programming.”
The typical textbook for the programs we looked at does require mathematics, but it seems that that mathematics is neither taught nor tested, presumably because the instructors do not think the students can do it.
Many 12th graders go to community college to do 8th- or 9th-grade work, Tucker writes. About a third of high school graduates aren’t ready for 8th-grade work. “Many of the rest, apparently, those who are admitted to credit-bearing courses at their community college, have only the shakiest command of 8th and 9th grade mathematics, reading and writing.”
Community college standards are clearly in the basement. They should be much higher. But, if we were to talk to the community college instructors about this, they would undoubtedly say that they are doing the best they can, that we should go and talk to the high school people, who are responsible for sending them students who have been very badly educated.
Raising community college standards would mean failing a huge percentage of students, the NCEE warns.
What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? Community colleges expect little of first-year students — and get even less, concludes the National Center on Education and The Economy.
The report paints a grim picture.
High school graduates have trouble reading textbooks written at the 11th- to 12th-grade level, so instructors provide study aids to help poor readers get by. Students do little writing. When they do write, ”instructors tend to have very low expectations for grammatical accuracy, appropriate diction, clarity of expression, reasoning and the ability to present a logical argument or offer evidence in support of claims.”
Despite taking high school algebra, geometry and often advanced algebra, most students are placed in remedial math. They’re not prepared for “college math,” which amounts to “Algebra 1.25,” basic algebra with a bit of geometry and statistics. Yet what students most need to succeed in college courses is mastery of “middle school mathematics, especially arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations.”
Community colleges enroll 45 percent of U.S college students: About half hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, while the rest are pursuing a vocational credential, NCEE estimates.
It’s not enough for community colleges to raise expectations, the report concludes.
We need to bear in mind that a very large fraction of high school graduates does not meet the very low expectations that community colleges currently have of them. The nation may have to learn to walk before it runs, which means that it is important, first, to enable our high school students to meet the current very low standards before we ratchet those standards up.
Common Core Standards, if implemented well, will help, eventually, the report concludes. But there’s a long way to go.
Researchers analyzed textbooks, tests, assignments, student work and grading at seven community colleges in different states. The study focused on general education and popular career programs: Accounting, Automotive Technology, Biotech/Electrical Technology, Business, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Information Technology/Computer Programming 1 and Nursing.
Only one program at one college required mastery of advanced algebra, the study found.
Increasingly, high schools are requiring students to take Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, with hopes they’ll make it to Calculus. That should be only one option, the report recommends.
Mastery of Algebra II is widely thought to be a prerequisite for success in college and careers. Our research shows that that is not so. . . . fewer than five percent of American workers and an even smaller percentage of community college students will ever need to master the (algebra to calculus) sequence in their college or in the workplace.
Students shouldn’t take algebra till they really understand middle-school math, the report advises. If they wait till 10th grade, that’s OK. They can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers.
States should “build alternative math pathways through the last two years of high school that are aligned with student interests and career plans,” says Harvard Education Professor Robert Schwartz. “If the Report’s assertion is correct —that only 5 percent of jobs require the mathematics embodied in the calculus pathway —then our education system should focus more on the mathematics that most young people will actually use in their civic and work life, e.g. statistics, data, probability.”
However, the path to 12th-grade calculus usually starts with eighth-grade algebra. At 12 or 13, students would have to decide whether they’re aiming for a university degree in engineering or science. Imagine a STEM-prep track for 5 percent of students — or even 20 percent — with everyone else preparing for a low-tech university degree or a community college job training program. The future engineers and physicists are likely to predominantly Asian-American, white, middle class and male.
An all-day conference on the report will be livestreamed today starting at 9 am EDT.
Tracking students’ progress through the core curriculum can help community colleges improve success rates for students who hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, suggests a new Community College Research Center report.
About 70 percent of community colleges say they want to transfer to earn a four-year degree. Most never make it.
Researchers analyzed data from community colleges in two states with different transfer policies.
State A requires a 42-credit general education core curriculum. All core courses are transferable, but transfers aren’t guaranteed junior status, even if they’ve earned an associate degree. In State B, a 36-credit core is required and statewide articulation agreements guarantee junior standing for transfer students who’ve earned an associate degree.
Over five years, 29 percent of students at College B completed the 36-unit core; only 12 percent completed the 42-unit core at College A.
After five years, students who completed the core were much more likely to complete a degree compared to those who completed most of the requirements (30-41 credits at College A and 30-35 credits at College B).
For example, while only 8 percent of students who accumulated 30-41 credits at College A earned an award at their community college and/or at the four-year college to which they transferred, 54 percent of students who completed the core did so. The corresponding results for College B are 17 percent (for those who accumulated 30-35 credits) and 70 percent (for those who completed the core).
Encouraging near-completers to earn an associate degree before transferring would boost success rates, the study advises.
Students were most likely to meet social sciences requirements and struggled the most to earn math and science credits.
Self-paced online courses backed by data analytics could help community colleges get students up to speed, said Khan Academy founder Salman Khan at the San Francisco convention of the American Association of Community Colleges. “About six million people around the world watch Khan’s free online tutorials each month, writes Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.
Khan thinks his nonprofit website can help community colleges, which he said are in the academy’s “sweet spot.” And he views community colleges as potential allies rather than competition.
“We’d love to work with any of you,” said Khan, apparently broaching the suggestion for the first time.
Free online courseware could help remedial students advance at their own pace, Khan said.
AACC leaders talked with Khan about collaborations, said Walter G. Bumphus, the association’s president. “It’s going to be good for community colleges and good for AACC,” Bumphus said.
Many conference sessions focused on using online courses — massive and otherwise — to serve more students, Fain writes. Some community colleges are creating their own online tutorials, often geared to remedial students.
In Louisiana, Bossier Parish Community College offers free, online study guides that teach grammar, skill by skill. Students can prepare for placement tests or brush up on the basics while taking college-level courses.
North Carolina’s Wake Tech Community College is using a Gates Foundation grant to create a massive open online course (MOOC) in remedial math. College instructors create the tutorials; Udacity provides the platform.
Weak math skills disqualify would-be workers, manufacturers say.
High school graduates applying for jobs at Tacoma’s General Plastics Manufacturing have to take a math test. The company makes foam products for the aerospace industry.
Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.
They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).
One in 10 pass the math test. And it’s not just a problem at General Plastics.
“Manufacturers are willing to train people about the specifics of their machines and technology,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of Work Force Central, a partnership of government, business, education and community organizations that trains workers in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County. “But they can’t afford to hire someone who needs to relearn basic math.”
Math teachers know their students will need math knowledge in the real word, writes Darren, a high school math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast. But he’s turned off by the story’s “drooling over Common Core Standards. Many teachers ”doubt . . . the so-called cure.”
Having students write about math isn’t a real cure. Group work isn’t a cure. Collaboration requires everyone have some background knowledge on which to draw so everyone can contribute. I wouldn’t mind cutting a few topics out so we had more time to cover the remaining topics more deeply, but to insist on so-called discovery learning is an exceedingly inefficient use of instructional time.
Instead of trying to make math “fun” or “applicable”, perhaps we could consider instilling in students, or insisting on, some perseverance and a sense of responsibility, and maybe even some delayed gratification.
Employers would value those traits too, Darren believes.
Many students who slid through high school without really learning math enroll at community colleges with hopes of training for a job or eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. Placement in remedial math is the single biggest dream killer.
New York City high schools are flooding community colleges with unprepared students, reports the Village Voice. Eighty percent need remedial reading, writing or math — especially math — when they enroll, up from 71 percent a few years ago.
City University of New York’s community colleges have doubled spending on remediation in just a decade, to $33 million a year, reports the Voice. “Faculty members have been transformed into de facto high school teachers.”
The Voice blames the push to raise graduation rates, but it’s also a sign of increased academic ambitions: More high school graduates are enrolling in community college.
Seeing very low success rates for remedial students, CUNY began experimenting in 2007 with other ways to prepare students for college-level courses.
Jahleah Santiago and Ashley Baret, who hated math in high school, are in the START program, an intensive 12-week immersion, at LaGuardia Community College. They spend 15 hours a week in math class.
Nathan Stevens . . . stands at the whiteboard, going over eight homework problems, encouraging all 14 students (average class size is 20) to verbalize their thought processes. . . . “How do you know that you’re finished with the factors now?” . . . as the class simplifies polynomials and multiplied exponents: “Put it into words, Manny. Tell me how you got that answer.”
. . . “In this program we seek to show what’s really happening in the math,” Stevens says. “Rather than teaching my students to memorize the formulas, tricks, rules, I try to reinforce the underlying ideas of what they’re looking at, with the hope that they could solve any problem they see.”
“In my high school, math was kind of under a veil,” says Santiago. “You didn’t know what was going on—you just do that and that and get the answer. Nathan will break it down and do different examples until we get it.”
Sixty to 70 percent of START students reach proficiency in one semester, compared with 20 percent who take regular remedial courses.
CUNY also offers ASAP, a full-year intensive program. It costs more per student plus less per graduate.
. . . of the original cohort who entered ASAP in 2007, 55 percent earned their associates’ degree in three years, compared with 24.7 percent of similar students in the broader CUNY campus and just 16 percent of urban community college students nationally. According to an independent study by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Columbia, the graduation rates were so much higher that ASAP cost about 10 percent less per graduate.
If New York City’s public schools invested in ”small class sizes, mastery-based course design, one additional counselor or adviser for every 25 students,” it’s likely more students would learn math in middle and high school, instead of struggling to learn it in college, the Voice suggests. That would save money in the long run, but it would be saved by CUNY and by students, not by the K-12 system.
More remedial students are passing college-level math since Indiana’s Ivy Tech went to the “concurrent” model: Students enroll in a remedial math lab or workshop and a college-level math class. In one workshop, students stack wooden blocks to visualize math concepts, reports the Star Press.
MUNCIE — Paul Jones, a 39-year-old gas station clerk, stacked square, wooden alphabet blocks in his remedial math class at Ivy Tech Community College on Thursday afternoon.
. . . The vast majority of students entering Ivy Tech are adults who hold a job. And 70 percent of them test into one of the remedial math classes, such as “Math 080, Mathematic Principles with Algebra,” a non-credit course.
“Anything to bring them down off the edge,” associate professor Rob Jeffs said of his props, which also include soup cans. . . . “The problem is when you get into the abstract. We are starting out at an intuitive level and trying to build on it. If I’d have put ‘y = mx + b’ on the board, I’d have lost half of them to start with.”
Both math classes use the same textbook, so students save money as well as time.
Ronald Sloan, vice chancellor for academic affairs for Ivy Tech’s East Central Region, calls the concurrent model “the first little light I’ve seen since I’ve been in this business (more than 30 years).”
Ivy Tech launched the new model, which it borrowed from Austin Peay State University and from the Community College of Baltimore County, last semester. The model is also being used by Ivy Tech for remedial English students.
In the past, about half of remedial math students would pass. Some wouldn’t sign up for Math 118, the entry-level for-credit class. Of those who did, only half passed. That meant only 15 to 20 percent of remedial math students made it through college-level math. “Now, it’s almost 60 percent,” said Sloan. “That’s big.”
In the old model, students would forget math skills from one semester to the next, Sloan said.
In the concurrent model, students in the remedial class take the 118 course together, so they know each other and can help each other. Or they can turn for help to non-remedial students in the course.
Success rates in developmental math tripled – in half the time — at community colleges using Statway, the Carnegie Foundation’s new statistics-based program, an analysis has concluded. In an intensive yearlong program, students learn basic math skills and take college statistics for credit.
Statway began at 19 community colleges and two state universities in fall 2011. After one year, 51 percent successfully completed the math sequence with a C or better in college statistics. By contrast, only 15.1 percent of remedial math students at the same colleges earned math credits after two years if they started in conventional remedial courses. The one-year success rate was 5.9 percent. Even after four years, only 23.5 percent passed a college-level math class.
“These are the students that community colleges especially need to serve well,” Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk said. “A disproportionate number are minority, from families whose primary language is not English, and typically where neither parent has a post-secondary degree.”
Students in Quantway, which stresses quantitative reasoning, also are showing signs of success, said Carnegie officials, but the program is too new to produce outcomes data.
Both Statway and Quantway stress what Carnegie calls “productive struggle” or “productive persistence.”
It’s not about guessing what the teacher wants to hear or about finding a particular answer. It is about the process of thinking, making sense, and persevering in the face of not knowing exactly how to proceed or whether a particular approach will work.
In addition, instructors connect facts, ideas, and procedures to help students understand what they’re doing and carefully sequence problems to provide “deliberate practice.”
Both Pathways use face-to-face and online learning.
Instructors make math relevant, said Carnegie officials at a press conference.
By applying math concepts to determine the braking distance of their cars, for instance, rather than simply plugging numbers into an equation and hoping for the right answer, students see the connection with their lives, Carnegie officials said.
“Students tell us they’re learning mathematics that matters to them instead of a series of disconnected math concepts,” said Karon Klipple, who directs the Statway program for Carnegie.
Sixty to 70 percent of new community college students are placed in remedial math, Carnegie estimates. More than 80 percent never qualify for a college-level math course.
The remediation rate was nearly 80 percent for graduates of New York City public high schools who enrolled in a City University of New York community college last year, reports the New York Post.
A stunning 79.3 percent of city public-school grads who went to CUNY’s six two-year colleges arrived without having mastered the basics, up from 71.4 percent in 2007.
The ballooning numbers come despite the state having raised the requirements to graduate from high school in each of the past five years.
Education officials say the city has raised graduation rates since 2002, sending more students, to CUNY, without significantly raising remediation rates.
“When you increase the number participating and you hold essentially steady on remediation, that means you’re increasing the number who are passing the bar,” said Josh Thomases, deputy academic chief at the DOE. “That said, I don’t want anyone to go to remediation.”
Most remedial community college students need to improve their math skills. CUNY raised its math standards in 2011 and 2012.
Remedial students in Community College of Denver‘s FastStart were more likely to complete remediation and take and pass gatekeeper math courses, concludes a Community College Research Center study. However, FastStart was not linked to increased persistence or accumulation of college-level credits.
Fast Start was designed for students who test into at least two levels of developmental education in a particular subject area. The program combines multiple semester-length courses into a single intensive semester, while providing case management, career exploration, and educational planning services.
Acceleration, rather than case management, appeared to be “the catalyst driving superior course performance outcomes,” the study concluded.
FastStart has added learning communities that combine a developmental and college-level course. That may improve retention rates, researchers speculate.