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

For years we had been seeing a disturbing trend at our college, similar to that seen at 2-year colleges across the country – new students at Madison College were underprepared in mathematics and those that started in developmental math often never made it to college level math. Nearly a decade ago, I began exploring available course options to help us improve outcomes and in the process, I came across Carnegie Math Pathways’ Statway and Quantway. Their relevant, applied curriculum, taught using a group-based, active learning approach was exactly what I was looking for. I was convinced that if our students understood how math related to their lives and were actively engaged in applying math, they would succeed. After attending a Carnegie Math Pathways conference in which they shared national statistics on student success in traditional developmental math sequences, I asked our IR department to run the numbers for our college. I learned that they tracked the national data closely, with just 12% of our students successfully completing the developmental math sequence in a single year. I knew that we at Madison College needed to do better and that redesigning our foundational math offerings—both the content and the instructional approach—was a first step.

Our math department persuaded our college to introduce a reasoning path for our students. In 2014, we launched the math reasoning course using Carnegie Math Pathways’ Quantway Core. The course gave students an alternative to our algebra-based developmental sequence and provided a shortened path to our college-level quantitative reasoning course, a previously under-utilized college transfer-level course option for Liberal Arts transfer students. Based on the initial success of the math reasoning course and our sense that this was more appropriate math preparation for many of our students, we expanded the course to satisfy the math requirement for many of the applied programs at our college, including human and protective services, criminal justice, automotive technology, and others. Not stopping there, beginning in fall 2015, we piloted offering Quantway Core to historically underserved high school students who come to our college for classes through our Gateway to College program.

As we reviewed the data, the impact was undeniable. Quantway was improving student outcomes. With Quantway Core, we saw success outcomes initially increase from an average of 58% to 62%. Now, our average Quantway Core success rate is 74%.

Yet, these changes still didn’t stop the fact that significant numbers of new students entering from high school were not eligible to enroll in our college-level math courses and were instead being directed to enroll in prerequisite courses. The system wasn’t serving them well, and it was costing our students time and money, and in some cases, thwarting their entire academic aspirations. This motivated my colleagues and me to develop a plan to support students in math before they graduated high school.

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

We knew that to increase student success we needed to work with our local high schools to provide more paths to college-level math readiness. We presented a plan to our dean, our college K-12 partnership office, and local high school instructors to use Quantway Core as a dual enrollment math reasoning course for high school students. Though we already offered dual credit for elementary algebra, we felt that math reasoning was just as rigorous and, in many cases, a more appropriate and meaningful option for students. As a dual enrollment option, the Quantway Core course prepares students and provides college credit for many of our applied technical programs, and, for those that wish 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 our college and the high school. While our high school teachers are already familiar with using group learning strategies, we proposed offering high school dual enrollment instructors professional mentorship and support as they learned the curriculum and incorporated the specific collaborative instructional philosophy of Carnegie Math Pathways in their practice.

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 graduation. Our K12 Partnership office and math department began working with high school instructors and administrators to align the course for approval for high school and Madison College credit, and with the counselors to prepare for student recruitment.

Outcomes from our first year

In fall 2020, we launched Quantway Core dual enrollment partnerships with 10 high school teachers from 8 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 in the midst of Covid-related disruptions. There was notable variation in the Quantway Core success rates across schools, with some schools reporting similar outcomes to those we’ve seen at the college, while others reported lower outcomes due to complications students experienced with remote access and online learning during the pandemic. While we work to examine and learn more from the variation in course outcomes, we’re also learning more from our high school partners about the impact this had on their students.

Despite the challenges associated with adjusting to new technology and learning in a virtual class setting, instructors’ survey responses at the end of the academic year were quite positive and noted several benefits of the course for students. For one, students were interacting with one another during the learning process and were engaging with and positively discussing 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. One instructor commented that because the content was so well connected to what students had learned in their previous 9th-11th grade math courses, it enabled them to practice and put those skills to good use. Another instructor reported that students felt more confident and successful in this math course than in previous courses, and that they found the content more relevant.

Investing in instructors is essential for a successful launch and sustainability

Critical to the success of our launch and implementation was our investment in our partner high school instructors. We worked with Carnegie Math Pathways to ensure that each of our dual credit instructors was prepared to teach the collaborative-learning based Quantway Core course. Each of our partner instructors received training in the courseware platform and instructional approach through the Carnegie Math Pathways preparation seminar. We also established a peer mentorship program that follows the Carnegie Math Pathways model. We connected the high school instructors to an experienced Quantway instructor at Madison College to serve as a mentor, providing support and guidance for instruction. And perhaps most importantly, we’re building on our experience as part of the Carnegie Math Pathways network to also create a community among our dual enrollment educators.

The goal of this community is to provide our high school partners a space to connect, share experiences, and engage in professional development to help them grow their practice and enhance their effectiveness in the classroom. In the last year, we coordinated regular meetings throughout the year to connect our two college faculty mentors and the high school instructors in order to discuss the course, troubleshoot, and share lessons learned. The community has helped our high school teachers forge new collegial relationships across campuses. These have been an important source of support especially as we all navigated the rapid and uncertain changes to instruction brought about by the pandemic, and as these teachers all also navigated teaching an entirely new course.

Looking ahead

The preliminary evidence of how this program is improving the classroom 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 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’re offering just six sections of math reasoning on campus in fall 2021 as we continue to scale our dual enrollment implementation. We believe our investment in K-12 is an important way to expand college access and prepare students to enter Madison College college-ready. We look forward to continuing to learn from our existing partnerships and to increasing student outcomes, while also expanding this math learning opportunity to students across all the 40 high schools in our district.