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ATHENS, June 15, 2017 -- An experiment to remap developmental math in four Texas community colleges resulted in a higher pass rate and a larger number of developmental math credits earned by the students who participated. The preliminary results suggested "potential benefits" of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP) approach, which was formerly known as the New Mathways Project.
A recent research brief from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) described the program in detail. Most colleges require students to pass a college-level algebra course to earn their degrees. However, according to the brief, most community college students — estimated at between 50 and 70 percent — arrive unprepared to tackle those courses and just a small percentage (20 percent) ever pass them.
In 2012, the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin introduced DCMP, which reworked the structure, content and pedagogy of developmental and college-level math classes to boost student outcomes. In 2014, CAPR teamed up with the Dana Center to reconsider DCMP. With backing from the US Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, DCMP worked with four colleges: Brookhaven College and Eastfield College (part of the Dallas County Community College System), El Paso Community College and Trinity Valley Community College. Faculty at each school volunteered to teach the new DCMP courses and received a week of training in the course content and approach.
Unlike traditional developmental math courses, which tend to drill down on "algebraic concepts such as linear equations, exponents and manipulating formulas," according to the brief, the new developmental math course, Foundations of Mathematical Reasoning, emphasizes "development of students' numeracy, statistics and algebraic reasoning skills." The courses use "active learning" environments where students work closely with one another to solve math problems from real life. Rather than tackling formulas and algorithms, students "wrestle with larger mathematical ideas" and take on multistep math problems that are frequently presented in story form or require analysis and comparison of math figures, graphs or tables. One of the goals is to encourage students to persevere through the problems to help them understand that struggle is part of learning. The course materials pull together content from other disciplines, including health and science. Along the way, students also develop their reading and writing skills by working through the word problems and providing written explanations of their solutions.
“With the support of the MDRC and the UT Dana Center, our developmental math course sequence and curriculum was redesigned to more strategically address the math skills which are required for the specific degree our students are seeking,” explained TVCC Vice President of Instruction Dr. Wendy Elmore. “This reform involved extensive and ongoing collaboration between TVCC’s instructional department and the advising and registrar division of the student services department. We are very pleased with the preliminary results and anticipate more successes for our developmental students as the New Mathways project continues to become fully scaled.”
A final report on the foundations program is expected to be released in 2019. That will include information on how to implement the program, will examine data from a larger sample of students and will examine the longer term impacts on students' academic outcomes, including their performance in college-level classes.
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