More reading about acceleration

Posted on March 22, 2016


The California Acceleration Project: Reforming Developmental Education to Increase Student Completion of College-Level Math and English, to be precise, is the article I just read.

It’s by Katie Hern with Myra Snell, and I could only find it via our library database.   Interesting that the three articles that didn’t have a link to full text in the database were a google away from the full text article OUt There, but this one which we did have access to wasn’t.   The other citation stuff:

By: Hern, Katie; Snell, Myra. New Directions for Community Colleges. Fall2014, Vol. 2014 Issue 167, p27-39. 13p. DOI: 10.1002/cc.20108. , Database: Professional Development Collection

Subjects: EDUCATION — California; EDUCATIONAL change; ENGLISH people — Study & teaching; STUDENTS — Services for; MATHEMATICS — Study & teaching; CURRICULA (Courses of study); EDUCATIONAL productivity

It starts with the usual “big numbers” about how bad things are, including “In math, for example, more than half of all Black and Latino community college students are placed three or more levels below college (Perry, Bahr, Rosin and Woodward, 2010).”

The first thing these folks did was find out that, not surprisingly given human nature,  faculty attitude tended to be that they really didn’t have a problem in their schools; some students passed, some students failed, and you got a new batch the next semester. So they got some data and …

“For example, if a faculty member at San Diego’s Cuyamaca College
wants to know how basic skills math students are doing, and she’s especially
interested in the ones who start low in the sequence, she can… immediately have her answer: 106 students started three levels below college math in fall 2008, and three years later, three of those students had completed a transferable math course (3%), including repeated attempts (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2012a). What if she extended the timeframe to five years? Back to the pull-down menu; adjust the end term; view report. Now, it’s 7 of those 106 students (7%)
(California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2012a).” (pages 3-4)

… The Cohort Tracker concluded that “Basically, the more opportunities there are to lose students, the more students community colleges will lose.” (page 4)

… OUCH.   I thought we had bad stats!!!

Their proposed solution (with noted challenges because of transfer policies) :   the “pathways” approach to math rediation, which has “less algebra and more quantitative reasoning and data analysis for students taking statistics or liberal arts math.”

They used the “Path2Stats” course and “completion of college
math was three times higher among accelerated students than students in
the traditional curriculum. ” (p. 5)

Welp, says me… numbers?   (did they go from 3% to 9%?  I *hope* that stat wasn’t typical but can’t assume it).     and, more importantly, the fact that the article talks about the enthusiasm for the changes by the “faculty leading the effort.(11)”  Since they aslo talked about other faculty being actively opposed to it, it might be hard to get those numbers to scale up.

Okay, okay, but what were they *doing*?   They found placement scores just didn’t offer a clue to success rates.   The “lowest placed students saw the largest relative increases of the college-level gateway courses” (p.6)… and that no level actually *suffered* from acceleration.   The article did note *(THANK YOU!) that … it isn’t the solution for everybody, to wit: (p 6)

These findings conflict with many instructors’ experience in the classroom,
which has convinced them that some students need a slower path.
They can think of specific individuals, students they know would not have
made it to college level in one semester. In discussions with these faculty,
we don’t disagree. We can also recall students who, despite their best efforts,
needed more than a semester of developmental work on their reading,
writing, and quantitative skills. The problem is that our placement tests do
not accurately identify these students.

They didn’t have a ‘set curriculum,’ but offered five design principles.   The idea is to make the assignments the “same kinds” as college level with that “just in time” help. Now, I was really, really happy to discover that in our Math LIteracy course, the “same kinds” of problems … were, actually, much more … accessible. They were more easily understood and had fewer layers of Special Math Language to them. The principles also talked about affective issues and the importance of lots of “low-stakes practice.”

So!   Fascinating!

… For crying out loud, *more than half* Black and Latino students landing *three levels under* college???

And I love that this didn’t just cut to a panacea (like the “Bridge to Nowhere” nonsense).   The backstory stuff about having to convince people there was a problem, and the anticipated challenges in scaling — they *matter* to the students and faculty out there.   It’s refreshing to read things written by people who are doing more than marketing their favorite ideas…

Time to get to work on the integers…