Changing the Equation: Redesigning Developmental Math
Bowling Green Technical College (re-named Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College in 2013)
Contact: Ryan Sandefur
Bowling Green Technical College (BGTC) redesigned its developmental math sequence using NCAT’s Emporium Model. Prior to the redesign, BGTC offered two developmental courses: Pre-Algebra and Basic Algebra, each a traditional three-hour lecture course with a maximum enrollment of 24 students. Fall 2010 enrollment in developmental math was 626 students, a 20% increase over fall 2009.
Improving student retention and success in college-level courses were the drivers of the redesign. Since nearly 30% of developmental math students from academic years 2005-2007 failed to pass a college-level course within three terms, the increased student-faculty interaction that the Emporium model provided was a necessity. Additionally, enrollment in developmental math courses had consistently grown over the past five years. Unfortunately, BGTC’s resources had not kept pace with this growth due largely to reductions in state appropriations. With enrollment continuing to grow, it was imperative that strategies be in place that allowed the current faculty to serve more students and still provide them with a highly effective learning experience. That goal could be accomplished using the Emporium Model.
Each redesigned course consisted of six clearly defined modules delivered using Pearson’s MyMathLab. Once placed in the appropriate course, all students began with the first module of that course and completed each module in sequential order. At the start of each module, students could take the module exam which allowed them to move to the next module with a score of 70 or above. Otherwise, students needed to complete module coursework with a score of 70 or above--including interactive lessons, homework and quizzes--before taking the module exam and continuing on to the next module. Upon successful completion of all six modules, students needed to pass a common final exam to complete the course.
The redesign enhanced the quality of developmental math courses by providing more focus to the curriculum, assisting students in the areas where they need the most help and eliminating time spent on areas where remediation was not necessary. The goal was to provide developmental math students with a more direct path to their chosen field of study, thereby enhancing student retention and success.
Comparative student learning outcomes were assessed by comparing common final exams in the traditional and redesigned formats.
The redesign of developmental math at BGTC resulted in significant cost savings due to an increase in the average section size. Traditional developmental math sections had, on average, 24 students each; redesigned sections enrolled an average of 32 students each. Even with an enrollment increase of 42 students, only 27 redesigned sections were needed compared with 34 in the traditional mode. In the traditional lecture format, the cost-per-student was $177; the redesign sections had a cost-per-student of $130, a 27% reduction. The cost savings will allow BGTC to expand tutorial services in its learning center, as well as purchase additional technology and learning materials.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
Student performance on common final exams improved in both Pre-Algebra and Basic Algebra in the redesigned semesters. The improvement in Pre-Algebra was statistically significant.
Course-by-Course Completion Rates
Course completion rates (grades of C or better) improved in Pre-Algebra from 52.7% in spring 2010 before the redesign to 66.3% in spring 2012 after the redesign.
The success rate in Basic Algebra was 38.4% in spring 2010 before the redesign. During the spring 2011 pilot of the redesign, the completion rate increased substantially to 49.4%. The following semester, the team designed and implemented new course modules that covered more competencies and proved to be more rigorous. This change in rigor affected completion rates in the fall 2011 and spring 2012 semesters. The decrease required the department to reassess the course. In an effort to improve results, the math faculty developed new and improved modules and created an emporium workbook designed to provide students with more guidance.
In conducting an extended analysis of the discrepancy between increased learning outcomes and decreased course completion rates in Changing the Equation, NCAT has discovered a variety of reasons why course-by-course completion comparisons are not a true measure of the success or lack of success of the program.
First, the majority of Changing the Equation teams discovered that pass rates in the traditional format were inflated by prior inconsistencies in grading practices. Unlike redesign students who were assessed on common outcomes using common assessment methods, those in the traditional courses were assessed in a variety of ways which led to overall grading differences. Contributors to prior grade inflation in the traditional course included 1) having no clear guidelines regarding the award of partial credit, 2) allowing students to fail the final exam yet still pass the course, 3) failing to establish common standards for topic coverage (in some sections, entire topics were not covered, yet students passed), and, 4) failing to provide training and oversight of part-time instructors. Thus, the C or better rates for the traditional courses were almost universally inflated.
Second, in the redesign, students were required to master all of the content of all of the courses. BGTC redesign students had to pass each module independently at a 70% level before being able to progress to the next module, showing mastery in homework assignments, practice tests and module exams. In the traditional format, students exited the course by simply attaining a total cumulative score of at least 70% or 75%. Based on averaging grades, students were able to earn a C or better by passing enough tests and learning enough competencies but not necessarily all. In traditional sections, students would often continue on to the next topic without having demonstrated mastery of the previous topic.
Improved Course Completion: Making Progress Grades
There are other indications that redesign students, in the majority of instances, are completing at a higher rate. BGTC analyzed fall 2011 and spring 2012 course grades by considering a what-if “Making Progress” (MP) grade. Students receiving an MP grade must have completed at least three of six modules with 70% or better mastery. In the traditional course, an MP grade meant failure and required the student to re-take the entire course. In the redesigned course, students could pick up where they left off in a subsequent semester. When taking into account MP grades, completion rates improved in the redesign.
Other Impacts on Students
A primary goal of the redesign was to allow students the opportunity to complete developmental course work at an expedited pace. Many Pre-Algebra students finished the course ahead of schedule and began working on Basic Algebra during the same semester. Some Pre-Algebra (about 5% in spring 2012) students followed an accelerated schedule and completed both developmental courses in the same semester, paying tuition for only one course. In addition, students who did not pass but completed some modules were able to pick up where they left off when they reenrolled in the same course in the next term. This helped students get prepared for college-level math as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Were costs reduced as planned?
The redesign of developmental math at BGTC resulted in significant cost savings due to an increase in the average section size. Traditional developmental math sections had, on average, 24 students each; redesigned sections enrolled an average of 32 students each. Even with an enrollment increase of 42 students, only 27 redesigned sections were needed compared with 34 in the traditional mode. In the traditional lecture format, the cost-per-student was $177; the redesign sections had a cost-per-student of $130, a 27% reduction. The cost savings will allow BGTC to expand tutorial services in the learning center, as well as purchase additional technology and learning materials.
As of fall 2012, Intermediate Algebra was taught using the redesign model as part of the developmental sequence. In the past, the course was a 100-level, credit-bearing course. This provided Basic Algebra students the opportunity to continue working in Intermediate Algebra upon completion, increasing the option of students completing more than one course in a semester.
The developmental sequence of Pre-Algebra, Basic Algebra and Intermediate Algebra are taught using the same textbook. This allowed students to take all three courses using the same course materials; therefore, they needed to purchase course materials only once. An emporium workbook was also designed for all three courses and, therefore, also needed to be purchased only once.
Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?
BGTC is very pleased with the success of the redesign. The redesign has yielded an increase in common assessments, course completion and course retention in Pre-Algebra during every semester of implementation. Basic Algebra is not far behind with improvements in common assessments and course retention. BGTC is fortunate to have 100% commitment to the redesign from all math faculty and administrators. The math department will continue to improve the redesign each semester and anticipates seeing higher gains in learning outcomes, completion and retention.
Starting in fall 2012, Intermediate Algebra will be taught using the redesign model. In the past, the course was a 100-level, credit bearing course. As of fall 2012, the course will be taught as part of the developmental sequence using the Emporium Model. This will allow Basic Algebra students the opportunity to continue working in Intermediate Algebra upon completion. This will increase the option of students completing more than one course in a semester.
BGTC's math lab has also been remodeled to better accommodate the redesigned courses. New furniture has been purchased to make better use of the space and to create a separate testing area with nine additional computers. This will help emphasize the importance of taking module exams by distinguishing the testing area from the general classroom workspace. The lab is also getting new carpet to improve its overall appearance.