Completing college-level mathematics courses has historically been a challenge for students at community and technical colleges. Students often face a long pathway with many remedial classes and confusing options. At Clover Park Technical College (CPTC), in addition to the typical obstacles, there are some unique challenges. For instance, students tend to take high professional-technical credit loads, are generally only interested in learning occupational skills, and profess some skepticism towards general education requirements. In addition, CPTC’s students are typically older and have more personal responsibilities such as jobs or children than traditional college students. The lack of a recent high school transcript would often land them in a remedial math class, and personal responsibilities would often interfere with their progression. All these factors have contributed to a low completion rate of college-level math courses at CPTC and a large equity gap between White students and historically underrepresented students of color.
In order to improve access, completion and learning outcomes of math courses, CPTC recognized the need for a multipronged approach. The math redesign project at CPTC includes four main elements: implementing contextualized college-level math courses, designing a directed self-placement (DSP) process for math, developing a co-requisite teaching model, and working with professional-technical faculty to embed math courses in their program maps. These efforts recognize the interconnection of placement, just-in-time skills for professional-technical programs, and the correct timing of math courses in degree pathways to boost early math completion and thereby degree completion. The strategies are based on extensive research on best practices and designed, evaluated, and revised with cross-divisional collaboration.
Each of these interventions is assessed with quantitative data, but the DSP is perhaps the best example of an iterative and collaborative assessment process. The instrument was first developed in 2019 as a home-grown placement test and piloted with Student Services and Instruction staff; those pilots revealed that the test needed to be proctored and graded, was too difficult, and would err on the side of placing students in math levels which were too low. Math faculty revised the instrument to be more of a student confidence survey instead of a high-stakes test, and designed it to be taken online without proctoring. The DSP process was launched in 2020. Data from the first quarter after its launch suggested that 74% of students placed using the DSP process successfully completed their math class in their first attempt. Faculty, deans, and entry advisors continue to monitor placement data and student feedback from this process to ensure the process leads to greater access and accuracy for our students.
Clarifying the pathways into and through math has had a dramatic impact on student success outcomes for Clover Park students. CPTC measures its success by the percent of entering students completing college-level courses in their first year. This is a leading predictor of success and a baseline metric for the Guided Pathways initiative championed by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. Until these efforts began with the receipt of a grant from the College Spark Foundation in 2018, it was common in professional-technical programs to regard general education courses as a separate set of requirements to complete either before or after the completion of program courses. Frequent dialogues between program faculty and math faculty in the past few years have not only helped both groups to better understand program learning outcomes and student needs, but also reinforced the importance of communicating to students the need to take math classes early. As a result, general education classes are intentionally selected and embedded into all program maps. Many programs have also redesigned their curriculums to make room for general education courses in their scope and sequence.
The co-requisite teaching model, which pairs a college-level class with a supplemental instruction class that offers just-in-time support, has allowed the college to compress the math pathways significantly. Almost all incoming students are now eligible to be enrolled in a co-requisite math class in their first term. Courses such as Math for Health Occupations and Introduction to Statistics that were required to be taken as a three- or four-quarter sequence can now be completed in a single quarter as a co-requisite class with developmental support. Although co-requisite math classes have just been developed and implemented in the past two years, early course completion data has already shown a distinct advantage of this teaching model. Students who took the co-requisite math classes were able to complete their college-level math in a shorter amount of time and at a higher rate, compared to those who chose the traditional prerequisite pathway. “I’m so glad there was a co-requisite available for the statistics class,” said Sarah Miller, a CPTC student pursuing a Network Operations and Systems Security degree, in a recent interview. “I needed a refresher and a fast-track class so that I could start my program next quarter.”
Because of the multipronged approach, CPTC has gone from only 14% of students entering the College in 2015-16 completing college-level math in their first year to 30% of students entering in 2018-19. The momentum continued during the pandemic. Although it dipped slightly to 27% of students entering in 2019-20, it is still significantly higher than the baseline. These advances in college-math level completion are more striking when disaggregated by race and ethnicity; African-American students went from only 7% passing college-level math in their first year for the 2015-16 entering cohort to 24% in 2019-20, a more than three-fold increase. Every race and ethnicity had increased pass rates, including multiracial students, whose increase was nearly as substantial as African-American students’ from 8% to 31%.
While the progress has been very encouraging, faculty, staff, and administrators at CPTC realize that there is more work to do. The work continues through aligning basic education math pathways with the College’s to provide for seamless transition into the College with minimal runaround and credit loss. CPTC is aligning the new math pathways to its on-campus technical high school for youth, as well as using competency-based credit towards high school credentials for adults. CPTC has also started exploring embedded tutoring by intentionally selecting and placing staff or student tutors in certain math classes to offer students additional support both in and outside of the class. The college is working towards eventually moving to a fully co-requisite model where every math class has the option of supplemental and wrap-around support to provide these opportunities to all students.
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