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Changing the Equation: Redesigning Developmental Math

West Virginia University at Parkersburg

Contact: Al Edwards

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

Project Abstract

West Virginia University at Parkersburg (WVU Parkersburg) planned to increase student success rates in developmental math by redesigning its traditional program, which consisted of two separate courses: Basic Arithmetic and Elementary Algebra. Each course was delivered as a traditional, classroom lecture to approximately 35 students at a time. Students had to rely on outside assistance through the college’s Student Success Center for tutoring or scheduled meetings with the instructor if they experienced difficulty and needed individual support. During AY 2009-2010, there were a total of 1,351 students enrolled in these two courses, with 683 enrolled in Basic Arithmetic and 668 enrolled in Elementary Algebra.

WVU Parkersburg was concerned about low student success rates in developmental math courses. Out of the approximately 4,300 students who enrolled for classes at WVU Parkersburg in AY 2009-2010, 1,351 or 31% were enrolled in a developmental math course. Students enrolled in Basic Arithmetic between fall 2008 to spring 2010 had an average success rate of about 48% while those enrolled in Elementary Algebra during this time had a 40% success rate.

To improve overall student retention and success in developmental math, WVU Parkersburg redesigned its traditional developmental math sequence. A committee of stakeholders from across the college outlined a new strategy utilizing NCAT’s Emporium Model. The plan segmented the two courses into 10 modules to be delivered in a 48-seat computer lab setting utilizing MyMathLab. Students were required to spend a minimum of three hours per week in the lab, which was overseen by one WVU Parkersburg faculty member assisted by one lab assistant. Students worked in a self-paced, online program with instructor and lab assistant support available on-demand. Students experienced a seamless progression from one level to another through the modularized “shell courses” without traditional course number/section constraints that limit progress and/or retention.

The WVU Parkersburg redesign positively impacted the quality of the developmental math program in several ways. At-risk students were identified immediately through reports generated by MyMathLab and were assisted before they became frustrated and failed. The new computer classroom provided an active learning environment that engaged students throughout the entire class. Retention of developmental math skills was increased by making exams cumulative. Independent learning was encouraged by the individualized computer-based curriculum, and small, class-based learning communities provided time for individual and small-group instruction with instructors and tutors. 

In the traditional format, WVU Parkersburg offered 43 sections (~31 students each) of developmental math, 35% of which were taught by full-time faculty. After the redesign, only 35 sections were offered (~ 37 students each); 57% of which were taught by full-time faculty. Thus, fewer adjuncts were needed. Overall, the cost-per-student declined from $109 in the traditional format to $97 after the redesign, an 11% reduction. The savings will be used to implement similar strategies in college-level math courses, and to supplement and enhance the college’s developmental writing program and learning center.

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

During fall 2011 and spring 2012, scores from a common comprehensive final exam for students in redesigned sections were compared with those of students in traditional sections from fall 2010. The mean scores for students participating in the redesign sections were significantly higher than their peers in the traditional sections. 

 

Fall 2010 Traditional

Fall 2011
Redesign

Spring 2012 Redesign

Basic Arithmetic

74

86

88

Elementary Algebra

67

68

73

Course-by-Course Completion Rates

Course completion rates appear to decline under the redesign.

Grade of C
or Better

Fall 2010 Traditional

Fall 2011
Redesign

Spring 2011 Traditional

Spring 2012 Redesign

Basic Arithmetic

59%

44%

46%

29%

Elementary Algebra

46%

36%

35%

17%

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.

In addition, the redesigned courses were more difficult than the traditional courses. 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. WVU Parkersburg 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.

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.

Overall, the course content for all of the courses was more rigorous for the redesign students than for the traditional courses to better prepare the students for the college-level math courses. The math department chair and several instructors have noticed that students who have completed the redesigned developmental math sequence are better prepared and their knowledge base is more consistent.

Improved Course Completion: Making Progress Grades

There are other indications that redesigned students, in the majority of instances, are completing at a higher rate. Students receiving an MP grade must have completed at least 50% of modules at 80% mastery. Students receiving the grade of MP can pick up during the next semester where they left off; they are not required to start over. When taking into account the MP grades, completion rates improved in the redesign.
           

 

Fall 2010
Traditional
C or Better

Fall 2011 Redesign
A, B, C + MP

Spring 2011 Traditional
C or Better

Spring 2012 Redesign
A, B, C + MP

Basic Arithmetic

59%

60%

46%

44%

Elementary Algebra

46%

55%

35%

46%

Other Impacts on Students

  • In fall 2011, 14 students completed all developmental mathematics requirements (the equivalent of two courses) in one semester, which translated into a cost savings for the students as well as a time savings on their way to degree completion.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

Institutional Savings

In the traditional format, WVU Parkersburg offered 43 sections (~31 students each) of developmental math, 35% of which were taught by full-time faculty. After the redesign, only 35 sections were offered (~ 37 students each); 57% of which were taught by full-time faculty. Thus, fewer adjuncts were needed. Overall, the cost-per-student declined from $109 in the traditional format to $97 after the redesign, an 11% reduction. The savings will be used to implement similar strategies in college-level math courses, and to supplement and enhance the college’s developmental writing program and learning center.

Student Savings

Students completing all modules associated with one course could move into the second course during the same semester without paying tuition for the second course. It was possible for a student to receive credit for two developmental math courses while incurring the cost for one. In addition, textbook costs for students were reduced significantly because an e-book is used as a part of MyMathLab.

Sustainability

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

Sustainability of the redesigned developmental mathematics is not in question. The math department at WVU Parkersburg is totally committed to offering these two courses using the Emporium Model. The team feels very strongly that this is the way to go, and their commitment is unwavering. There has been total support from the administration for the redesign. The team intends to keep working toward improving completion rates as they begin their second year of full implementation of redesigned math in fall 2012.

 

 


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