Bucking the trend – rethinking the path to student success in college mathematics

For years, Madison College had been seeing a disturbing trend common to many 2-year colleges across the country–incoming students were arriving underprepared in mathematics and most who were placed in developmental math never advanced to college-level math. In fact, just 12% of our students were completing the developmental math sequence in a single year.

We realized we needed to do better and redesign our foundational math offerings—both the content and the instructional approach. Our college introduced a math reasoning course using Carnegie Math Pathways’ Quantway Core in 2012. With a relevant, applied curriculum taught using a group-based, active learning approach, Quantway gave students a meaningful and rigorous alternative to our algebra developmental sequence and shortened the path to our college-level quantitative reasoning course. The impact was undeniable. With Quantway Core, success outcomes increased from an average of 58% to 74%.

Yet, while this had an impact on enrolled students, these changes still didn’t stop the fact that the majority of new students entering from high school were not eligible to enroll in our college-level math courses and were being directed to enroll in prerequisite courses. This system was costing our students time and money, and in many cases, thwarting their entire academic aspirations. This motivated my colleagues and me to develop a plan to support students in college math before they even graduated high school.

Partnering with high schools is key for our college’s student success strategy

We knew that to increase readiness for college-level math, we needed to collaborate with educators at our local high schools. We presented a plan to our dean, our college’s K-12 partnership office, and local high school instructors to use Quantway Core as a dual enrollment math reasoning course for high school juniors and seniors. The course offered students an alternative option to algebra and would prepare students for and provide college credit for many of Madison College’s applied technical programs. And for those wishing to pursue other programs, it would ensure they could enter college ready to enroll in college-level quantitative reasoning.

We also made the case that using Quantway Core brought the opportunity to establish instructional partnerships between college and high school educators. While the high school teachers were already familiar with group learning strategies, we proposed offering professional mentorship and support as they became familiar with the Pathways curriculum and pedagogy.

In the end, several of the high schools in the Madison College district were on board, seeing this as a way to improve student outcomes and increase high school graduation. We began working with high school instructors and administrators to align the course for approval for high school and Madison College credit, and with high school counselors to prepare for student recruitment.

Outcomes from our first year

In fall 2020, we launched Quantway Core dual enrollment programs with 10 teachers at eight schools. Still very much in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, these courses were taught almost completely remotely.

Between fall 2020 and spring 2021, the math reasoning dual enrollment courses served 281 students and students achieved a 45% success rate. Though slightly lower than the historical average success rate of the elementary algebra dual enrollment course, these are encouraging initial outcomes, particularly amid Covid-related disruptions. There was notable variation in success rates across schools, with some reporting similar outcomes to those we’ve seen at the college, while others reported lower outcomes due to complications with remote access and online learning during the pandemic.

Despite the challenges, instructors’ survey responses at the end of the academic year were positive, noting several benefits for students. For one, students were interacting with one another during the learning process and were engaging positively with the curriculum. Students also demonstrated the ability to advocate for themselves and seek help, as well as enhanced reading and math skills. And because the content is relatable and meaningful to students, they built deeper connections to and could see the value of math.

Critical to the success of our launch and implementation was our investment in partner high school instructors. We worked with Carnegie Math Pathways to provide high school teachers with training on the Pathways instructional approach and courseware platform. We also established a peer mentorship program, connecting high school instructors to an experienced Quantway mentor instructor at Madison College. And perhaps most importantly, we formed a community connecting the dual enrollment educators and enabling them to share experiences and engage in professional development to enhance their practice and effectiveness in the classroom.

Looking ahead

The preliminary evidence of how this program is improving the learning experience and helping students build a new, more positive relationship to math while preparing for college has us optimistic about the power of this endeavor. We’re further encouraged because every school that taught Quantway this year has confirmed they are going to continue to offer the course again in the coming school year. And we’ll be working with three additional high schools making a total of 11 schools and 14 high school faculty in the 2021-22 academic year.

At Madison College, we offered six sections of math reasoning on campus in fall 2021 as we continued to scale our dual enrollment implementation. We believe our investment in high schools is an important way to expand college access and prepare students to enter Madison College. We look forward to continuing to learn from our partnerships and expanding this math learning opportunity to students across all 40 high schools in our district.