Posted on September 16, 2018


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Yesterday I posted a “thread” on twitter — my first attempt at that as communication.

I’m going to try to replicate that here, more accessibly than the images of powerpoint slides.

I’ve been reading a lot of research on developmental math, remedial math, and adult ed math.   Sometimes I’ve blogged about an individual article.  It’s tme to summarize.

I noticed that research that wasn’t even about the same kinds of things had some common phenomena.

HEre goes the thread, more verbally:

There are lots of books and articles about our nationwide problem with understanding math.   Marilyn Burns’ _Math:  Facing an American Phobia_,  Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences are just two.

What is actually happening in the postsecondary scene?


This article   is one of many scathing analyses of remedial math in colleges.   So few people succeed in it that we should dump it and put people in college level classes with support.

It notes:   “best practices have demonstrated that as many as half of all current remedial students can succeed this way.”

The rest of them?   Oh, there are nice vocational programs that don’t require math.   (No, they can’t tell us where they are.)

Next tweet

Why are the students unsuccessful?   Well, several articles have a laundry list.


Cafarella B. Developmental Math: What’s the Answer?. Community College Enterprise [serial online]. Spring2016 2016;22(1):55-67

we have

  • Poor attendance
  • Student apathy
  • Work habits along with severe underpreparedness
    • “The level of underpreparedness has simply increased”
  • Employment obligations, family obligations, etc.

Note that none of these are the responsibility of schools.   It’s on the student.   Note also that poor attendance and apathy are likely “side effects” of “extreme underpreparedness,” otherwise known as not knowing the basics of math.

Next tweet:

From the adult ed community,

Showalter D, Wollett C, Reynolds S. Teaching a High-Level Contextualized Mathematics Curriculum to Adult Basic Learners. Journal Of Research & Practice For Adult Literacy, Secondary & Basic Education [serial online]. Summer2014 2014;3(2):21.

  • “Based on participants’ posts on the online discussion board, the greatest barriers to implementing the curriculum were learner-content mismatch, lack of relevance in contexts and in content, difficulty interpreting the lesson plans, attendance patterns, and time constraints.”
  • The most prevalent barrier was a perceived mismatch between the current mathematical ability level of the adult learners, and the level for which the curriculum was designed.

Again… they don’t know the math.

Back to college, from

Zientek L, Schneider C, Onwuegbuzie A. Instructors’ Perceptions About Student Success and  Placement in Developmental Mathematics Courses. Community College Enterprise [serial online]. Spring2014 2014;20(1):67-84.



“Lack of basic math skills”  … and “time delay” — which in my experience is usually “I didn’t get it the first time either” are the *overwhelmingly* most common answers.   The surveyers did not include lack of aptitude or “some people just can’t do math” as answers to be included, but it would have been interesting to see how many teachers had that attitude.

From an interview with Paul Nolting

Boylan H. Improving Success in Developmental Mathematics: An Interview with Paul Nolting. Journal Of Developmental Education[serial online]. Spring2011 2011;34(3):20-27.

“High school math grading systems can measure algebra skills, but they are also often a measure of effort and extra credit as an indicator of success, compared to the placement test which measures only pure alebra knowledge.”

Now, one could argue about how well the tests do that but his point that grades can be inflated is painfully valid.

I’ll pause here because the next slides are about the Stigler, et al article which dives into exactly what students *understand* about the math.


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Posted in: goals, numeracy