Increasing Pathways to Student Success in Postsecondary Mathematics

by Eboni Zamani-Gallaher / Oct 23, 2018

There are many barriers to math readiness highlighted in a new report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS). The document relates promising practices and models of effectiveness in moving students through developmental to college-level mathematics. In addition, the report reveals that ECS, along with the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness, share models of math pathways that provide math curriculum in differentiated paths that facilitate active, engaging, contextualized math learning applicable to students’ programs of study. Important features of the math pathway models include closely aligned developmental and college-level math courses, curricular alignment between courses of study and career paths, and revisions of developmental math requirements that reduce the time spent in developmental coursework.

Mathematics can be a gateway or gatekeeper that propels or thwarts students’ progression in their respective program areas. Large numbers of students do not meet the ACT national college-readiness benchmarks for English, math, reading, and science. The ECS report notes, for example, that six in 10 community college students and one-third of students who attend public four-year institutions are placed in developmental math. Overall, there are disproportionately higher numbers of low-income and racially minoritized students who are enrolled in developmental education, with few completing math requirements for degree conferral.

While college algebra is the customary required math curriculum, it does not readily offer value for students in many majors or positions in their field of study. The report notes that requiring college algebra as the requisite for a college degree limits the preparation students receive for math, other than the next level of calculus, and presents barriers to degree completion (especially for the non-math-reliant majors and fields such as the arts, humanities, and some areas of social sciences). Hence, in many instances, the prerequisites required of students (e.g., statistics not preceding algebra or algebra being favored and the most appropriate math for certain majors) are misaligned. That certainly was the case for me during my undergraduate years as a psychology major. Although I was placed into college algebra, I never appreciated that as a prerequisite math requirement.  In fact, I very much wanted to implement revisions to the courses and sequencing so I could take math courses that were most relevant to my major.

Accordingly, greater coordinating efforts and rethinking of curricular alignment in math among secondary, community colleges, and four-year institutions are needed. In addition, removing hindrances to student progression as well as revamping and providing different on-ramps to multiple math pathways is a necessity (e.g., co-requisite remediation). Efforts to foster diversified pathways in mathematics are readily being advanced as noted by Complete College America’s Math Pathways, the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP), and the Carnegie Math Pathways. All told, it is critical to consider new ways to accelerate students through their developmental sequence across disciplines and fields of study, but adoption of various math pathways, particularly those in non-STEM majors at a universal level, has not readily occurred.