Campus, Long Beach, News

Mathematics department eliminates remedial classes to promote student success

Skipping years of remedial coursework, incoming freshmen will soon be able to dive into college level mathematics courses during their first year at Long Beach State.

Chancellor Timothy White issued Executive Order 1110, which called for a complete remodeling of remedial coursework and went into effect Aug. 2, 2017. The goal of the order was to help students begin credit-bearing courses in math and English in their first year of enrollment.

“This represents a new chapter for the CSU,” said James Minor, CSU senior strategist for academic success and inclusive excellence. “All incoming students, including those who arrive in need of additional academic support, will now have the opportunity to complete college-level credit-bearing courses on day one.”

CSUs had until fall 2018 to implement the new courses, and the LBSU math department was ready for the remedial classes adjustment.

“We are actually way ahead,” said Krzysztof Slowinski, associate dean for academic programs in the College of Natural Sciences. “Before we even knew about the executive order, we started working with our faculty [on new courses]. Our faculty felt that there was a need to change the remedial education.”

The group that dealt with the math requirement redesign consisted of faculty members in the department of mathematics and statistics. Faculty members in the departments of psychology, sociology and human development were also involved in the effort, as they offer statistics courses that count for the general education math requirement.

“This was a very demoralizing situation, because you would tell students they were admitted to college and then you would force them to take courses, and pay for them, that actually don’t count towards their college degree,” Slowinski said. “Many folks felt that maybe they [didn’t] belong here. This was particularly true for first-generation students or otherwise underserved students.”

Not all universities have completed the redesign of their course curriculums. At the Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 11, three CSU campuses were commended for completing testing of distinctly different course models over the summer: Fullerton, Los Angeles and Stanislaus State.

Students who participated in the summer courses on these campuses were among those most likely to take remedial classes, according to Loren Blanchard, executive vice chancellor for academic and student affairs of CSUs.

Cal State Los Angeles ran a three unit credit-bearing course with a two-unit supplemental course over a five-week period. At Cal State Fullerton, they conducted a bridge model, which is a formal partnership between two post-secondary institutions. At Stanislaus State, 82 percent of students enrolled over the new stretch math course passed.

A stretch course spreads a single semester class over two semesters to allow for a slower pace and additional support. Of Stanislaus State students who took the course, 84 percent are enrolled in the fall portion of the course which, if completed, will earn them general education credit, according to Blanchard.

At LBSU, the new course model for algebra combines a stretch approach with supplemental instruction. The stretch algebra course includes Math 112A and Math 112B, the first of which has a concurrent two-hour support course called Math 92. For students who need additional support, this class can be taken in addition to algebra.

What makes Long Beach’s program unique is that the first semester of stretch math is general education credit-bearing, which means students don’t have to take the second semester of algebra to get college credit.

According to Slowinski, most students who enroll at LBSU and need math remediation do not graduate from STEM majors. Even if they start with a declared STEM major, most change their majors. The fact that the first semester of stretch math counts for general education is meant to cater to this trend.

Rather than using a blanket method, each newly designed math course at LBSU uses a different method to combat remediation. These courses in mathematics and statistics were designed with the help of a committee that included 15 faculty members. Florence Newberger revised algebra, Jen-Mei Chang revised the early start program and Kagba Suaray revised statistics.

Curriculum changes were also paired with adjustments in math-readiness evaluation methods.

Students used to take a placement test called the Entry-Level Mathematics Exam. Instead of taking the online fixed-number test, the chancellor’s office has developed a new placement standard. The eligibility index uses high school GPA, SAT scores and certain combinations of high school courses to evaluate readiness.

With this new standard, about 600 to 700 students are still designated as not fully ready for baccalaureate mathematics courses, according to Slowinski.

LBSU has been using a supplementary program called ALEKS PPL to evaluate incoming students for math readiness.

“ALEKS PPL is an inductive placement program,” Slowinski said. “You do your initial assessment and the computer then tests what your deficiencies are.”

The program is intended to give students more practice in their perceived deficiencies. In supplementary corequisite courses, half of the course is in-person and the other half is online practice with ALEKS PPL.

In the past few years, when the school was still requiring an early start program for remedial math, the pass rate of their one-week long program was 5 percent. The new program, which takes place over the course of four weeks, meeting once per week with a supplementary ALEKS PPL approach, has increased completion rates to 40 percent.

“[Math in the United States] is taught in a fashion that discourages discovery, making mistakes and all those things that are associated with a growth mindset,” Slowinski said. “We need to make broader changes.”

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