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Promising Results from New Developmental Math Approach at Community Colleges

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s newly developed approach to developmental mathematics instruction has demonstrated promising results in its initial implementation over the past year.  Westchester Community College is part of the community that the Carnegie Foundation has created to provide a completely new set of pathways for community college students in developmental mathematics.

One of these pathways is Quantway, which is being used at Westchester Community College. Eight community colleges in three states are part of the team developing and piloting a course which can substitute for Beginning Algebra for non-Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) oriented students. This course is based on the idea of “quantitative literacy” and though it includes some algebra skills, it is more focused on developing students’ ability to reason in context with such mathematical concepts as ratios, percentages, variables and formulas. The Westchester Community College team ran two of these courses in the spring, and we have four courses this fall.

The original national goal was to double the proportion of community college students earning college-level math credit within one year, an essential milestone for students who must have that credit to continue to further academic study. This national target was far surpassed in just the first year of this effort.

“We are pleased at this progress, both nationally and here in Westchester,” says Westchester Community College Professor Mel Bienenfeld. “Our hope is that this new system will lead to greater student success including higher graduation rates in the future.”

Compared to previous developmental math students from their various institutions, the students enrolled in Quantway dramatically increased the success rate of passing a college-level math course (with a grade of C or better).

Working with institutional researchers at the colleges, Carnegie established baseline performance network-wide. The first semester of Quantway involved 573 students in eight colleges. Of those students, 54 percent earned a grade of C or better. Because the first semester of Quantway can roughly be thought of as a replacement for the combination of elementary and intermediate algebra, Carnegie compared Quantway results to baseline data gathered from the same institutions from those courses. Baseline data indicate that only 8 percent of the developmental math students complete a college-level math class in the first year. Quantway is on track to achieve a 26 percent success rate, which is more than triple the baseline success rate.

“This is a tremendous achievement given that the program is in its first year, and these results are likely to improve as faculty become more experienced in using these new methods of instruction,” says Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk.

This new pathway was designed to replace a sequence of courses that can take as long as two or more years once students are placed into developmental math at entry to community college. Recent studies report that between 60 and 70 percent of students either do not successfully complete the sequence of required courses or avoid taking math altogether and therefore never graduate.

For more information on the Carnegie Community College Pathways Program, visit www.carnegiefoundation.org.