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Creating Pathways for Students to Complete Developmental Math

By Emily Rogan

Texas-based New Mathways Project aims to change the way colleges approach remedial mathematics education.

For many community college students, developmental math is a roadblock that prevents them from achieving their college and career goals. Often, frustrated students simply give up and drop out, unable to pass the requisite courses needed to move on to college-level classes.

The New Mathways Project (NMP) is working to change all that. Since May 2012, The Charles A. Dana Center and the Texas Association of Community Colleges have been redefining and restructuring the antiquated methodologies used to teach remediation, gradually replacing them with new models that help accelerate students’ progress, properly align math with their career paths and offer research-based, proven strategies and curricula to administration and faculty members.

Today, 47 of 50 Texas community college districts participate in the program, with schools in different phases of engagement and implementation. In case you missed it, AACC’s Community College Daily published a comprehensive profile of the program back in April.

One of the educators behind NMP’s success is Amy Getz, who serves as the project’s strategic implementation lead. Here, Getz sheds light on four principles guiding the NMP implementation and how educators are using the program to redesign the traditional model of developmental math education.

Principle #1

Multiple mathematics pathways with relevant and challenging math content aligned to specific fields of study

Getz: The traditional developmental math sequence is algebra-based. And while we’re not saying algebra and algebraic reasoning aren’t important, even students who were successful didn’t necessarily have the skills for their areas of study. There was no reasoning or statistics. It’s much more effective for students to engage and learn rigorous mathematics content that applies to their goals.
We focus on three well-defined pathways:

  • Statistics
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • STEM-Algebra Pathway

Principle #2

Acceleration that allows students to complete a college-level math course quicker than in the traditional developmental math sequence

Getz: In some cases, students weren’t successful in not just one, two or three, but up to seven levels of developmental math. At every transition point, there’s always attrition. Did we de-motivate and make it harder for students? It was a wake-up call when we saw that some students (not all) can be just as successful in college-level math without taking developmental math. By changing content — making it more motivating and challenging in a good way — students can be accelerated. If they have basic arithmetic skills, they can achieve college math credit in one year or less. It may not be college algebra, for example, statistics and reasoning might be more accessible for those who don’t need algebraic reasoning.

Principle #3

Intentional use of strategies to help students develop skills as learners

Getz: There’s a lot of brain-based development and research about what people learn and how they learn. Even with all of these advances, very little has gotten into content-based classrooms. Most educators don’t have that info at their fingertips and don’t have curriculum that supports that information; it’s something separate that they learn, but aren’t given support for practical application in the classroom. We provide training and curricular materials that support this information in mathematics; we’re teaching faculty how to teach so students can learn.

Principle #4

Curriculum design and pedagogy based on proven practice

Getz: This principle has a different flavor than the others; it’s how we keep a check on ourselves. As we move forward, we always need to ask ourselves, “Where’s the evidence that this is effective?” We need to be careful not to do things because they’ve always been done that way and we need to not just jump on a new bandwagon. We need to be sure that the decisions we make are always based on students’ need.

Getz is quick to point out the Dana Center didn’t create all these strategies independently; the work is based on research from other academic institutions, such as The Carnegie Foundation and The California Acceleration Project.

“We’re just trying to redesign it and make it accessible” for college programs throughout the states, she says. “A lot of our innovation is how we use the statewide network to support implementing it to scale.”

Are you working to change the delivery and impact of developmental education at your college? Share your experiences in the Comments.

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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