N + 1 – arithmetic remediation in college article

Posted on January 4, 2020


So! Fascinating article here from New York City College of Technology: A Modularized Tablet-Based Approach to Preparation for Remedial Mathematics . First off, up front, they state that lots of people need to learn arithmetic before they can take remedial math, rather than exclude them.

The intro is the usual “things are really bad!!” stuff, including this interpretation:

In spite of these obstacles to their progress, research shows that students who succeed in passing their remedial mathematics course requirements are as successful in their subsequent credit-bearing mathematics courses as their counterparts who were not placed into remediation.[5] A study conducted by American College Testing (ACT) on both two-year and four-year colleges reported similar findings.[6] Results from these studies indicate that remedial mathematics courses are effective for those students who complete them.

Now, the previous paragraph noted that ” only 30% of remedial math students complete their prescribed sequence of developmental math courses,” so … that’s a pretty strong filter.

I also question the statement that they are “effective.” They’re just “as successful” in credit-bearing as those who didn’t place into remediation. How many succeeded? How many didn’t?

They go on to talk about the folks who simply filter out everybody who dropped out or didn’t continue, as if that were “oh, there must have been some mysterious reason they disappeared” as opposed to “if you’re failing, you take a W instead of an F.”

So! These folks put together an online arithmetic remediation program– using open source online practice:) … discussing the value of immediate feedback and things *not* being the same stuff they had in grade school.

Some instructional nuance: Students were presented with fairly complex “real” problems… that could be solved with simple stuff but a whole lot more efficiently with more advanced techniques. They also required students ot input the intermediate steps, and they didn’t all have the same problems so they couldn’t copy from the first person to get it. (Now, that’s how Connect works here and … it’s confusing and students can copy the process without understanding, but it covers a much wider mathematical swath.)

The topics? The four operations, exponents… and then square roots, common factors and multiples, percents, decimals and fractions. Importantly, though, ” The content of this workshop was designed to help students reconcile algebraic concepts to corresponding notions from arithmetic .”

Students opted in for this. It wasn’t required. Now, these folks also tossed the data for students who weren’t there the whole time so of 40 who opted in, 12 missed a day… and one more was late the first day and missed the pre-test, so the real N is 27.

The students were highly engaged and improved significantly on the post test, and did well on the test for the remedial summer course this was designed to prepare them for.

There’s lots of interesting discussion about topics students tended to totally overestimate their confidence in (and reverse correlation — the students who were “confident” about exponents didn’t do as well as the studnets who weren’t confident ;)).

The authors suggest doing a “control group” with “lecture-based” instruction in the arithmetic. In my humble opinion, the very *notion* that arithmetic is worth remediation is worth sharing. What does “lecture based” mean, anyway? I promise it’s vastly different experiences in different classrooms. Still, I suspect the “make it different from grade school” and connecting it to algebra … is huge. Oh, and … students opting in. The authors were impressed with the engagement of students (and their willingness to work on things out of classroom). What are the critical factors there?

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