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Changing the Equation: Redesigning Developmental Math

Laramie County Community College

Contact: Lisa Nordyke

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 8/1/12)

Project Abstract

Laramie County Community College (LCCC) is one of seven community colleges in the state of Wyoming offering both developmental and college-level math courses. The traditional developmental math sequence at LCCC consisted of three courses: Pre-Algebra (13 sections per year), Elementary Algebra (22 sections per year), and Intermediate Algebra (13 sections per year). All three courses were offered every semester with a capacity of 30 students per section. The total on-campus enrollment for LCCC’s developmental math courses for AY 2009-2010 was 1,346 students.
 
The academic problem that LCCC sought to mitigate included high attrition and failure rates across the developmental math sequence. For example, during AY 2007-08, the unsuccessful rate, defined as the sum of the failure and attrition rates, was 49 percent for Pre-Algebra, 58 percent for Elementary Algebra, and 52 percent for Intermediate Algebra.

LCCC implemented the Emporium Model for redesign, modeled in part after Cleveland State Community College’s redesign program. The traditional three-course developmental math sequence (12 credit hours total) was reorganized into 17 modules, which in turn were split relatively equally among three modular courses. These three courses carried the same course numbering and name as the traditional courses but counted for three credit hours each (nine credit hours total). The goal of the LCCC redesign was to allow students to move rapidly and successfully through the math courses required for their specific discipline. The College offered students the opportunity to proceed at their own pace, testing out of modules they already have mastered, eliminating duplication of topics from one course to the next, and allowing students the option to progress to the next course in the sequence upon completion of the previous course, at any time during the semester. LCCC created a dedicated Math Lab suite, available only for developmental math students, which housed course content modules delivering instructional videos, workbooks, and online homework. On demand assistance and immediate feedback were available at all times. Homework assignments and exams were generated by MyMathLab, which offers many online resources to students over traditional text. The LCCC Math Lab also provided remediation for struggling students.

Redesign at LCCC enhanced the quality of the developmental math offered by decreasing the unsuccessful rate of students while minimizing the amount of both time and money students and the college needed to spend getting through the developmental courses. By implementing a design emphasizing individualized attention and self-pacing, the college offered the motivated student every opportunity and multiple resources available to succeed.

LCCC employed the parallel sections assessment model during the pilot and full implementation phases. The redesign team compared common content items from exams in parallel sections after designing relevant questions to be used on both module and traditional exams. The data obtained from these comparisons allowed the team to observe what improvements needed to be made while moving into full implementation of the redesign.

In the traditional format, LCCC offered 51 sections with section sizes that varied from 23 to 30 students, depending upon the course, for a total enrollment of 1,346. Annually eight of these sections were taught by full-time faculty, and the rest were taught by adjuncts. After the redesign, faculty load was increased from ten sections annually to 15. However, the section size was reduced to 17. (LCCC’s plan had been to keep the section size at 22.) Twenty of the redesigned sections were taught by full-time faculty. These changes led to a reduction in the cost-per-student from a weighted average in the traditional courses of $161 to $153 in the redesign, a 5% decrease. The resources saved will be put back into departmental funds to be used for faculty professional development, facility expansion and redesign of additional courses.  

Final Report (as of 8/1/12)

Impact on Students

In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?

Improved Learning

Students in the redesigned courses learned significantly more than those in the traditionally taught courses. Redesign students ultimately increased their scores on common content exam questions by 21 points.  Beginning in fall 2010, students in both traditional and redesigned sections were given common content exam questions. The average scores on these questions in traditional sections were compared with average scores from redesigned sections. Redesign students ultimately increased their scores on common content exam questions by 21 percentage points as shown below.

 

Fall 2010
Traditional

Fall 2011
Redesign

Spring 2011
Traditional
Spring 2012
Redesign

Pre-Algebra

64%

86%

63% 85%

Elementary Algebra

61%

82%

40% 81%

Intermediate Algebra

44%

84%

39% 85%

Course-by-Course Completion Rates

The redesign did not have a significantly positive effect on course-by-course completion rates.

Grade of C or Better

Fall 2010
Traditional

Spring 2011
Traditional

Spring 2011
Redesign
Fall 2011
Redesign
Spring 2012
Redesign

Pre-Algebra

56%

44%

38% 38% 45%

Elementary Algebra

55%

55%

56% 62% 53%

Intermediate Algebra

64%

48%

43% 41% 50%

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. 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.

The redesigned courses 1) had more assignments, more quizzes and more tests than the traditional courses and consequently took longer to finish; 2) included more content than the traditional courses and consequently took longer to finish; and 3) required an 80% mastery level, which essentially raised the cut score for a student to earn a C in the redesigned courses.

In the redesign, students were required to master all of the content of all of the courses. LCCC redesign students had to pass each module independently at an 80% 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. The requirement of mastery learning meant that for students who completed a course, the percentages of A and B grades increased, while the percentages of C and D grades decreased.  For example, out of all students completing a traditionally taught course in fall 2010, 47% received an A or B grade, 18% received a C, and 10% received a D.  For students in redesigned sections in fall 2011, 67% received an A or a B, 3% received a C, and 1% received a D.

Mastery learning thus meant that students were doing more work and learning more, which often took longer to do so. That meant that many students did not complete a particular course by the end of the term. They were able to start where they left off in the subsequent term. But because course completion statistics were calculated as the number of students finishing the course at the end of the term, they missed counting students who were still enrolled and progressing.  Mastery learning, while sometimes taking longer to accomplish, ensured that students were well prepared to take on college-level work.

Other Impacts on Students

  • Although some students did not successfully complete a course on their first attempt, many of these returned the next semester with much more motivation and determination to stay on track and complete the course. 
  • Also, many students completed a course before the end of the semester and immediately began working on the next course in the sequence. Several students successfully completed two courses in a single semester.
  • Students new to the redesign program quickly learned to ask questions and get help when they needed it.  Many of these students commented that they had never been comfortable asking questions in a traditionally taught course. The flexibility and self-paced nature of the redesign program, as well as the availability of immediate and individual help from instructors and tutors, encouraged students to take more responsibility for their own learning.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

Institutional Savings

In the traditional format, LCCC offered 51 sections with section sizes that varied from 23 to 30 students, depending upon the course, for a total enrollment of 1,346. Annually eight of these sections were taught by full-time faculty, and the rest were taught by adjuncts. After the redesign, faculty load was increased from ten sections annually to 15. However, the section size was reduced to 17. (LCCC’s plan had been to keep the section size at 22.) Twenty of the redesigned sections were taught by full-time faculty. These changes led to a reduction in the cost-per-student from a weighted average in the traditional courses of $161 to $153 in the redesign, a 5% decrease. The resources saved will be put back into departmental funds to be used for faculty professional development, facility expansion and redesign of additional courses.  

Because of substantial enrollment increases, classroom space at LCCC has been extremely limited during the last three years. On the college’s main campus, the entire redesign program utilized only two classrooms: one was remodeled to create the math lab, and the other, a computer classroom, was used for weekly section meetings. The flexibility of hours for students in the math lab, as well as more efficient utilization of the computer classroom, meant that the number of classroom hours needed for developmental math classes decreased 37%, from 143 to 90.  This represented a significant savings for LCCC.

Student Savings

The three courses in the sequence were redesigned to eliminate topic duplication and to eliminate topics that were beyond the scope of developmental math. This allowed the total number of credit hours for the three courses to be decreased from 12 to 9. This represented savings for students by decreasing the number of credit hours for which they needed to pay tuition.

Sustainability

Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?

The sustainability of the redesign program depends mainly on continued institutional and administrative support.  The positive impact on student learning outcomes will be a key factor in encouraging continued support; however, completion and retention rates will also need to improve in order to ensure that the program remains in place.

 

 


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