Hi All,

   I have been teaching elementary and intermediate algebra for over 15 years at Cape Cod Community College and I have served as our developmental math coordinator for a number of those years on and off. When we first started offering developmental courses we were trying to address a problem with precalculus (college algebra) in that some students were under or unprepared for the precalculus course work because they had forgotten their intermediate algebra and could not keep up, thus slowing the class down or failing the course. Some students were returning to school after a number of years spent outside academia, some had not paid much attention in high school, etc. We started with one section of intermediate algebra ( the real intermediate algebra that started with factoring, went through rational expressions, radicals, conic sections and log functions) and as the semesters rolled along we kept adding more sections of intermediate algrebra to accomodate more and more students. We use accuplacer to place students in math and English as part of their initial registration process. I presume evertyone has some form of initial assessment and advising process these days.

    Now the saga continues. We again found a number of students who were unable to cope with intermediate algebra so we added an elementary algebra course.  (A review of fractions, percents and decimals, signed numbers, graphing linear equations, solving simultaneous equations, polynomials and intro to factoring). The intent was to help the intermediate algebra instructors by removing those students who were unable to perform at that level and bringing them up to speed.

     And the saga continues two more times. We have added an arithmatic course that we euphamistically call prealgebra and believe it or not we have added a course before this one called fundamental math. 

     Every time we added a single section of the new lower level course it appeared to accomplish the goal of relieving some of the stress of too wide a variety of student level on the  course above it. Then we noticed that the number of sections kept expanding. We now have 4-5 of the lowest level each semester 5-7 of the next level, 8-9 of the algebra and 5-8 of the intermediate algebra each semester.

     The moral of the story is that you would think that with the high degree of assessment and placement and the extensive variety of offerings, to be able to take a student from any point in their math education and bring them all they way up to college math, that we would have an exceptional success rate. Our completion rate has actually declined over the years and now stands around 58% for all developmental courses. It is  lower for the intermediate algebra courses.

     In addition to the variety of courses we ahve, we offer extensive tutoring opportunities through a math tutoring center, and college tutoring center for math and English where students can get one on one help, plus a variety of special programs such as project advance, etc. Individual instructors are available for extra help as well as peer tutors.

     Why then the low completion rate?  We could spend a whole day comtemplating this question ( and perhaps we should) but basically the success of each individual student is just that. It depends entirely on their personal motivation and not upon our herculean interventions. You cannot make a student learn if they do not wish to. You cannot threaten them, cajole them, humor them, or go to their houses and turn off their tv's. They must want to learn, and then we can help them.

    My cynicism comes from my observations over recent years that students are much less motivated to learn than only a few years ago, are less interested in school and have more distractions outside, and thus are less prepared for college in general and math in particular. It is falling to us DE math instructors who encounter them during the first and second semesters to find a solution for this problem. Another concern I have is that we are being portrayed as the bad guy blocking studens from graduating or pursuing their desired employment field because they cannot get through math. 

      Finally, if a student cannot complete my class sucessfully, where I use cooperative groups extensively, lecture/explain concepts, tutor in class during group sessions, use different techniques to accomodate every learning style, use writing assignments to help focus thier attention to important concepts, encourage students to see me for extra help of to get tutoing, encourange them to do pre class assignemnents and post class homework, do reviews for chapter tests, etc. etc. etc.  Then clearly the problem lies with the student.

Who  got me started on this topic???


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