Changing the Equation: Redesigning Developmental Math
Somerset Community College
Contact: Kim Cleberg
Somerset Community College (SCC) redesigned Pre-Algebra (enrolling ~700 students) and Basic Algebra (enrolling ~675 students.) These courses, previously taught in lecture format, were prerequisite courses for credit-bearing math. Pass rates in the traditional format were dismal: 56% in fall 2010 for Pre-Algebra and 55% for Basic Algebra.
SCC had tried a variety of strategies to improve student success with limited improvement. The one-size-fits-all lecture format had not yielded results. Redesign provided a more consistent, learner-centered approach. The lecture-free redesign reduced inactive listening time in the classroom and simultaneously increased the time students were actively engaged in learning. Students had the opportunity to become active learners of math rather than passive observers. Redesign also gave students an opportunity to progress more quickly through developmental courses, thus reducing the time it took to complete their education. Using a mastery approach to learning reduced student frustration with the time required to complete the developmental sequence and its associated costs.
SCC’s redesign involved adopting a modularized curriculum that followed the approved Kentucky Community and Technical College System curriculum. Two class periods (2.5 lab hours) were required per week Students in the redesigned sections completed a pre-test on each module. Students who complete the pre-test with a score of 90% or higher were assigned a grade for the module and moved on to the next module. If a student did not score 90% or higher, s/he was required to complete the homework assignments lesson until mastery level of 80% was reached.
Students maintained a journal/notebook demonstrating completion of quizzes and assignments in Pearson’s MyMathLab. Exit exams were given for each module. If students were unable to demonstrate mastery level of 80% on the exit exam, they were required to do additional work and achieve mastery level of 85% on each assignment. All assignments were given due dates. Attendance comprised 10% of the final grade. After all six modules were successfully completed, a comprehensive final was administered. If a student failed the comprehensive final, s/he consulted with the instructor, and a plan of action was determined. If a student was unable to master all six modules, a grade of MP (Making Progress) was granted, and s/he was only required to repeat un-mastered modules in the next semester. If a student in Pre-Algebra completed all six modules, s/he immediately proceeded to Basic Algebra modules. Instructors worked closely with the college-level mathematics unit on future redesign of college-level math courses to continue to encourage students to advance more quickly.
SCC evaluated the success of the redesign by comparing performance on a common comprehensive final examination.
SCC’s cost reduction plan included eliminating the Pre-Algebra lab (a separate course in the traditional format) and increasing section size from 25 to 40. The lab component of Pre-Algebra was eliminated. Section size was, however, not increased on the main campus because too many sections were scheduled and sections at other, smaller campuses did not fill. Thus, SCC did not achieve their planned cost savings in the first year of full implementation. In fall 2012, the campus will offer the appropriate number of sections and will implement a one-room school house model, thus carrying out its cost-reduction plan. Each section offered will include both developmental courses plus a new course, Intermediate Algebra. The use of the one-room schoolhouse will mean that each section will fillto capacity. Eventual cost savings will be used to upgrade campus computers.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
Student performance improved significantly on common comprehensive final examinations in both Pre-Algebra and Basic Algebra.
Course-by-Course Completion Rates
Course completion rates (grades of C or better) appeared to decline in the redesign.
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, the redesigned courses were more difficult than the traditional course. 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. SCC redesign students had to pass each module independently at an 80% levels 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.
SCC also found that a large number of Ws and Fs, as in the traditional classroom, came from students who signed up for class but have no intention of completing. Of those students who failed either of the developmental math courses during fall 2011, 85% failed all classes in which they were enrolled. This suggests that 85% of the students who failed were either not prepared to pass any community college courses, had no intention of attending (perhaps for financial aid reasons) or had life circumstances occur. Overall, students who attended class and worked hard, passed with better scores on the comprehensive final.
Improved Course Completion: Making Progress Grades
There are other indications that redesigned students, in the majority of instances, are completing at a higher rate. SCC analyzed fall 2011 course grades by considering their “Making Progress” (MP) grades. Students receiving an MP grade must have completed at least three of six modules with 80% or better mastery and will pick up where they left off in a subsequent semester. In the traditional course, an MP grade meant failure and required the student to re-take the entire course. When taking into account the MP grades, completion rates improved in the redesign.
Other Impacts on Students
Were costs reduced as planned?
In the traditional format, Somerset’s two developmental courses enrolled 2,890. PreAlgebra, the first course in the sequence, also required a separate lab course. A total of 116 sections of 25 students each were offered, 50 of which were taught by full-time faculty and 66 by adjuncts. The redesign plan was to increase section size to 40 and reduce the number of sections taught to 73. Full-time faculty would still carry 50 sections, but the number of adjunct-taught sections would decline to 23. The plan also included dropping the PreAlgebra lab course.
During full implementation of the Emporium Model in fall 2011, the lab component of PreAlgebra was eliminated. Also, Somerset formed a separate division of transitional studies. The mix of faculty teaching the developmental math courses changed substantially, and new faculty were hired at lower salary levels than before. Section size was, however, not increased on the main campus because too many sections were scheduled and sections at other, smaller campuses did not fill. Thus, Somerset did not achieve their planned cost savings in the first year of full implementation. The cost-per-student decreased only 3%, from $161 in the traditional format to $157 in the redesign.
In fall 2012, the campus will offer the appropriate number of sections and will implement the “one-room schoolhouse” approach to deal with low-enrollment sections, producing both institutional cost savings as well as clear benefits to students. Previously, when small sections did not “fill” (particularly at smaller campuses and sites or during certain class times), they had to either be cancelled, (interrupting student progression through the sequence and incurring lost revenue to the college) or offered at a relatively high cost. The one-room schoolhouse approach allows the college to offer multiple developmental math courses in the same computer classroom or lab at the same time. Students work with instructional software, and instructors provide help when needed. Even though students may be at different points in the developmental sequence, they can be in the same classroom. This strategy will enable the institution to increase course offerings and avoid cancelling classes, which, in turn, will reduce scheduling roadblocks for students and enable them to complete their degree requirements sooner. Since fewer sections will be needed to accommodate the same number of students, the overall cost-per-student will be lowered.
Each section offered will include both developmental courses plus a new developmental course, Intermediate Algebra. The use of the one-room schoolhouse will mean that each section will fill to capacity. These changes are expected to reduce the involvement of adjuncts, which was desired by the college. Eventual cost savings will be used to upgrade campus computers.
Students saved the cost of a textbook. The software package, MyMathLab, included e-book at no additional cost to student. Paper copies were still available if desired.
Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?
SCC is pleased with results of its redesign, which is strongly supported by the college administration. Initial investment by the college provided new large labs on the main campus. A case now can be made to expand labs at all centers and sites. KCTCS system curriculum changes effective fall 2012 will allow expansion of redesign to Intermediate Algebra. Redesigning and modularizing Intermediate Algebra will provide an additional course in the sequence for multiple course completion and additional cost savings. Agreements have been made to facilitate entry into credit-bearing Applied Mathematics as soon as students complete Basic Algebra.
All faculty members in Transition Education Division embrace redesign and have a renewed interest in teaching. One faculty member, approaching retirement--who had strong reservations about redesign--has been so impressed that he may reconsider retirement. Faculty/student relationships are blossoming. Students seeking guidance about other academic issues feel comfortable to talk to their math teachers.