Scholarship helps remedial math students

Small scholarships accelerated progress for remedial math students at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida, reports a MDRC study. Incentives worth $600 per semester over three semesters increased the proportion who used math labs and completed a college-level math course or intermediate algebra within two years. It also slightly increased the number of credits students earned in their first semester.

However, Mathematics Access Performance Scholarship (MAPS) did not improve semester-to-semester retention rates.

Developmental math is a major roadblock for community college students. In one study, only 20 percent of students referred to developmental math ever passed a college-level math course, notes MDRC.

Launched in 2010, MAPS provides an incentive for low-income students in developmental (or remedial) math to complete a three-course math sequence early, get help from on-campus Math labs, and strive for passing grades or better. Each semester for three semesters, students were offered a $600 grant, contingent on making at least three to five visits to the on-campus Math Lab and completing their math course with a grade of “C” or better. In addition, students who earned a “B” or better received a math textbook or book voucher for the next math course in the sequence. Students were eligible for the program if they were 18 or older, eligible for Pell grants, and were in need of Beginning Algebra (the highest level of developmental math).

Forty-nine percent of MAPS students completed a college-level math course or intermediate algebra within two years compared to 38 percent of the control group.

“Grants contingent upon performance can give students a small push in the right direction,” said Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, Director of MDRC’s Young Adults and Postsecondary Education Policy Area.

Completion Arch tracks progress data

The Completion Arch, a web-based tool provides access to national and state data on the progress and success of community college students. That includes transfer rates, remedial placement and the average time to earn a credential.

Six-year completion rates provide a realistic time frame since many community college students are enrolled part-time, are not enrolled every term and require developmental education, an RTI research brief argues.

“The tool aims to track students’ success at five stages: when they enroll, when they receive developmental-education placement, when their ‘intermediate progress’ can be evaluated, when they transfer or complete a degree, and when they enter the work force,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Much of the data is missing or incomplete, said Laura J. Horn, who directs RTI’s Center for Postsecondary Education Research and the Completion Arch project, at an event last week.

“The power of the Completion Arch is not what’s there but what’s missing as well—how can I begin to add my own data?” said Christine Johnson, chancellor of the Community College of Spokane.

Ms. Johnson said having the data compiled into a single resource would encourage collaboration between educators and local businesses. She pointed to a job-training program offered by Boeing to community colleges in Washington State that was financed by a four-year, $20-million grant from the Department of Labor in 2011.

“In education, we sanction people for not performing,” said Steven G. Klein, director of the Center for Career and Adult Education and Workforce Development at RTI. “We need to reward people for success.”

Core-aligned exams will qualify grads for college courses

Washington state’s new Common Core tests will be used to decide whether students can start in college-level classes at community colleges and state universities, reports the Seattle Times.

Students who score at the top two levels –considered “college ready” — won’t need to take placement exams.

Students who just miss qualifying on the “Smarter Balanced” math test can qualify for college-level math by earning a B or higher in a pilot course called “Bridge to College Mathematics.”

Remediation rates plummet in Florida

Remedial enrollment has dropped by half this year at Florida’s Broward College,  but that doesn’t mean students are better prepared, reports the Orlando Sun-Sentinel.  Under a new state law, Florida high school graduates can choose to skip remedial courses and start at the college level.

At Palm Beach State College, remedial enrollment dropped by 41 percent; it’s down 30 percent at Miami Dade College.

Broward College officials said they’ve beefed up tutoring and advising to assist these students and have taken other steps to help them succeed. For example, the college offers a new statistics math class where students can get elective credit. About 1,200 students are enrolled in 40 sections, most of whom would have been in remedial classes before. The class is designed for students who are not planning on going into the fields of math or science.

And the college has changed its remedial classes as well.

The semester-long classroom lectures have been replaced with accelerated “boot camps” and computer programs that allow students work at their own pace and focus on their deficiencies. The school also developed a “Massive Open Online Course” or MOOC, where students can learn skills on their own time.

While placement tests are optional, counselors look at new students’ high school transcripts and recommend remedial classes if their grades or test scores are low, said Broward Provost Linda Howdyshell. She believes making remediation optional will enable more students to earn a credential.

But some are skeptical, reports the Sun-Sentinel. “Unfortunately, if they don’t know the basics, they probably won’t have a lot of success, and that makes me nervous,” said Juliet Carl, a math professor at Broward.

Speedier ways to get students up to speed

Speedier ways to get students up to speed are being tried at community colleges across the nation, reports Community College Daily.

Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) in Ohio is adopting the Accelerated Learning program developed by educators at the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland. As part of that model, EGCC English students who score near the top of the developmental range are granted admission into a for-credit English 101 course. As a condition of admission, students must agree to meet with educators once a week for an additional hour of help.

At Gateway Community College (GCC) in Connecticut,  educators are working with local high school teachers to offer remedial coursework in 12th grade.  A three-week summer “boot camp” gave 400 local high school graduates a chance to qualify for college-level math and English courses this fall.

Casper College in Wyoming is condensing multiple levels of English and developmental reading courses into just two levels. The college also has lowered the ACT score needed to qualify for college-level English from 21 to 18.

Who needs algebra?

Who Needs Algebra? asks NPR.

Sixty percent of the nation’s 12.8 million community college students are required to take at least one course in subject X. Eighty percent of that 60 percent never move on past that requirement.

Let Y = the total percentage of community college students prevented from graduating simply by failing that one subject, X. What is Y?

The answer: Y = 48.

. . . What is X?

The answer: Subject X equals the course sequence known as developmental or remedial math, and especially its final course, algebra.

Algebra is “the single most-failed course” at every community college, says Gail Mellow, the president of LaGuardia Community College in Queens, N.Y. Algebra is less a gateway than an impassable barrier.

Ashjame Pendarvis, 20, hopes to major in infant and early childhood education at the University of the District of Columbia Community College. But she’s placed into the lowest level of math. She’ll need to pass “two semesters of remedial math out of the way before she can start on courses relevant to her major, and two more of college-level math before she can graduate,” reports NPR.

Ashjames Pendervis works on her math homework.

Ashjame Pendarvis works on her remedial math homework at UDC Community College.

“I feel like, if math isn’t important in your career, then there is no need for it in college,” Pendarvis says. “What’s the purpose of wasting your time and your money?”

Mellow agrees. She’s involved with Carnegie’s Pathways, which offer alternatives to the traditional algebra-heavy math sequence. Some students study statistics (Statway), while others take “Quantitative Reasoning” (Quantway).

Success rates are high for Quantway and Statway students at LaGuardia and elsewhere since the program started three years ago.

Half complete remedial and college-level math in one year. “In the traditional sequence, just 15 percent do the same — and that’s in two years,” notes NPR. “We’ve tripled our success rate in half the time,” says Mellow.

Pathways students score as well or better in college-level math and statistics exams as other students, says Karen Klipple, who directs the Pathways Project.

Chicago: Free tuition for college-ready students

College-ready students will get a free ride to the City Colleges of Chicago‘s seven campuses, reports the Chicago Tribune. To qualify for a Chicago Star Scholarship, which covers tuition, books and fees, students must graduate from a public high school with a 3.0 grade-point average or better and be prepared for college-level math and English.

The Star Scholarship will cover costs for up to three years above any state or federal aid the student receives.

Chancellor Cheryl Hyman said the scholarships’ $2 million cost will be covered by “greater efficiencies in the system, such as establishing a single nursing at Malcolm X College instead of funding several separate nursing programs,” reports the Tribune.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel predicted City Colleges could save money if more students are prepared for college classes, cutting the $40 million spent each year on remedial classes.

High hopes, long odds


Vladimir de Jesus hopes to teach art, but has flunked remedial math three times.

Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation writes Gina Bellafante in a New York Times profile of a student at New York City’s La Guardia Community College. Vladimir de Jesus enrolled in September 2008, left after the first semester to work full time, then returned in 2012. In six semesters, he’s earned only 27 credits of the 60 he needs to transfer — and he’s flunked remedial math three times.

A fine arts major, he hopes to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees and teach studio art and art history.

De Jesus went to a low-performing high school, cut classes and dropped out, but earned a GED. He fathered a child when he was 17. He helps care for his six-year-old and uses some of his earnings as a freelance tattoo artist to help pay her Catholic school tuition. He suffers from ulcers.

More than 70 percent of LaGuardia students come from families with incomes of less than $25,000 a year, writes Bellafante. Many are working, raising children and facing personal and  health issues. Community colleges offer far less counseling than better-funded colleges and universities. The neediest students are on their own.

Toward the end of last semester, Mr. de Jesus had fallen behind on his math homework. There were domestic complications: the death of his grandfather, and the stresses of a college student’s typically strained romantic life. At one point he lost the lab work that he had done in class, which would make up 5 percent of his total grade. Not having a computer of his own, he had been checking laptops in and out of the library. In the process of returning one, he had left the lab work behind. When he went back to retrieve the papers, they were gone.

The final exam for Math 96 would make up 35 percent of the total grade, and as the day of the test approached, Mr. de Jesus knew that with the demerits he would face for his poor attendance and his unfinished homework, there was little chance he would pass. On the morning of the exam, he didn’t show up, and he failed the class for the third time. As it happened, more than 40 percent of the students in the class also failed.

“This whole thing with math just hits your spirit in the wrong way,” he said. “It demolishes your spirit. You become lazy.”

Gail Mellow, LaGuardia’s president, believes students shouldn’t have to master algebra if they’re not planning to pursue a math- or science-intensive field. La Guardia is experimenting with Carnegie’s statistics and “quantitative reasoning” alternatives to traditional developmental math.

De Jesus is postponing a fourth try at remedial math and considering applying for a job with the Sanitation Department, reports Bellafante. Given his long odds of completing a bachelor’s degree and low earnings for fine arts graduates, that’s not a bad plan. He could take art classes, do art and forget about trying to pass math.

ATD names ‘leader colleges’

Achieving the Dream has named a new group of “leader colleges” that are improving student success and closing achievement gaps, reports Community College Daily.

  • Amarillo College (Texas)
  • East Los Angeles College (California)
  • Eastern Maine Community College
  • Everett Community College (Washington)
  • Jackson College (Michigan)
  • Jefferson Community and Technical College (Kentucky)
  • Lane Community College (Oregon)
  • Los Angeles Harbor College (California)
  • Lower Columbia College (Washington)
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
  • Oklahoma City Community College
  • Passaic County Community College (New Jersey)
  • Pierce College (California)
  • Pierce College (Wyoming)
  • Richland College (Texas)
  • Rose State College (Oklahoma)

Achieving the Dream colleges work to improve college readiness programs, orientation, student-success courses and remediation.

Use grades to improve remedial placement

High school grades are more accurate than placement tests in predicting who needs remedial courses, concludes a working paper by Judith Scott-Clayton, Peter M. Crosta and Clive Belfield, Community College Research Center researchers.

. . .  roughly one in four test-takers in math and one in three test-takers in English are severely mis-assigned under current test-based policies, with mis-assignments to remediation much more common than mis-assignments to college-level coursework. Using high school transcript information — either instead of or in addition to test scores — could significantly reduce the prevalence of assignment errors.

If colleges took account of students’ high school performance, they could “remediate substantially fewer students without lowering success rates in college-level courses,” researchers believe. Currently, remedial coursework costs $7 billion a year.