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Video: Reforming Remedial Math in Community College

Linda Strean October 30, 2017
photo - Equations on Chalkboard

Developmental—or remedial—education is one of the largest barriers to student success in California’s community colleges. The good news is that reforms are underway, and a new report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) looks at the effectiveness of some of these reforms in math. PPIC researcher Olga Rodriguez presented the report in Sacramento this week. One reform the researchers studied is an alternative to traditional algebra-based courses and is designed for students in majors—particularly those in the liberal arts and humanities—that require only statistics. The report finds that students in this statistics sequence substantially outperform their peers who take traditional developmental math.

In a discussion following the presentation, panelists addressed the issue of why this math alternative is not more widely available. Myra Snell, math professor at Los Medanos College and cofounder of the California Acceleration Project, said the reasons range from the logistical to the cultural. Most math professors are not trained in statistics. Further, there is a deeply held belief among faculty that intermediate algebra is essential. She said that this “gets in the way of them rethinking what might be best for students.”

Laura Metune, vice chancellor of external relations at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, noted the necessary shift in emphasis from encouraging campuses to try multiple interventions to investing in alternatives with the best chance of helping more students achieve their academic goals.

Nikki Edgecombe, senior research scientist at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, noted: “If we know that students who are completing a statistics-level pathway are completing their transfer-level math at a significantly higher rate, but we hold on to the old system as well, it’s safe to say we’re doing a lot of students a disservice.”

She continued: “To be honest, there are a lot of bad ideas out there. We need to have the moral courage to identify what those are and fashion solutions for students.”

Learn more

Read the report Reforming Math Pathways at California Community Colleges
Visit the PPIC Higher Education Center

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