Emerging Issues in Mathematics Pathways: Case Studies, Scans of the Field, & Recommendations

An Examination of a National Movement

 

monograph book coverThe Emerging Issues in Mathematics Pathways: Case Studies, Scans of the Field, and Recommendations monograph brings together diverse voices to discuss critical topics, raise questions, and examine the future of mathematics pathways. True to the Dana Center’s strategy of engaging stakeholders across the system, this publication includes perspectives from college and university mathematics faculty, advisors, administrators, and system leaders along with Dana Center policy analysts, curriculum developers, and implementation specialists. The 15 chapters cover topics in:

  • Faculty Leadership and Curriculum Development
  • System, State, and Administrator Engagement
  • State and Institutional Policy Enabled
  • Equity and Culturally Reinforced

The DCMP believes that systemic and sustainable change is best achieved through a process that is faculty-driven, administrator-supported, policy-enabled, and culturally reinforced. We hope that each chapter will provide the guidance and inspiration for improving student success in mathematics education through the widespread adoption, implementation, and continuous improvement of mathematics pathways. 

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Panels

Section 1: Faculty Leadership and Curriculum Development

  • Chapter 1

    Faculty Engagement for Creating and Sustaining Mathematics Pathways

  • Chapter 2

    Re-envisioning the Pathway to Calculus: Supporting All Students

  • Chapter 3

    Content Trends in Quantitative Reasoning Courses

  • Chapter 4

    The Evolving Statistics Pathway

  • Chapter 5

    Key Considerations in Designing Co-requisite Supports

Faculty Engagement for Creating and Sustaining Mathematics Pathways

Lucy Hernandez Michal, El Paso Community College
Michael Oehrtman, Oklahoma State University

Because the foundations for achieving sustainable change in education rest within teaching, faculty engagement is vital to systemic change. This chapter discusses processes that sustain faculty engagement: data analysis, identification of problems and solutions, design and implementation of those solutions, evaluation of progress, and understanding of changes accompanying the implementation of mathematics pathways.

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Re-envisioning the Pathway to Calculus: Supporting All Students

Stuart Boersma, Central Washington University
Frank Savina, The Charles A. Dana Center

In coming years, STEM occupations are expected to grow at a rate 1.4 times faster than non-STEM occupations. However, the declining number of students prepared to succeed in college-level calculus in their freshman year significantly reduces the pool of students likely to graduate with a STEM degree. To broaden participation in STEM fields to meet increased demand, institutions should reconsider how they prepare students for calculus. By leveraging the opportunities presented by the mathematics pathways movement, institutions can make significant gains in student success and retention.

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Content Trends in Quantitative Reasoning Courses

Eric Gaze, Bowdoin College
Connie Richardson, The Charles A. Dana Center

This chapter traces the rise of quantitative reasoning (QR) course offerings, along with the factors that led to the wide variability in the content of those courses. We discuss the concerns that resulted from that variability and responses to those concerns. The growth in QR enrollment has also revealed issues with transfer between institutions and applicability to programs, resulting in increased costs to students in terms of both time and money. Research indicates that regions and states are moving toward standardization of learning outcomes to help alleviate those issues. Recommendations are presented for those looking to begin conversations about quantitative reasoning in their own region or state.

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The Evolving Statistics Pathway

Roxy Peck, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Statistics is the gateway mathematics course for a large and growing number of students. Institutions across the country are exploring ways to broaden access to college-level introductory statistics courses through new placement and prerequisite policies. As access to introductory statistics is opened to accommodate students who are more diverse with respect to mathematics preparation, new support structures are being put in place to promote student mastery. These support structures include courses for mathematically underprepared students, such as co-requisite courses and pre-statistics courses. This chapter considers issues related to placement, course content recommendations, and support course models.

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Key Considerations in Designing Co-requisite Supports

Connie Richardson and Jennifer Dorsey, The Charles A. Dana Center

Postsecondary developmental mathematics sequences were designed to give underprepared students more time to master mathematical concepts and to improve success in college-level courses. However, research indicates that these sequences often become a barrier even for students who pass individual courses. Many institutions and their students are finding success with co-requisite courses, placing underprepared students directly into college-level courses with additional supports. Many systems and states implementing such strategies have been experiencing success, with some seeing five to six times the number of students passing their first college-level mathematics course in half the time or less. This chapter explores the structural, cultural, and content decisions made by institutions in implementing co-requisite courses. Key considerations for designing co-requisite courses are delineated and supported with institutional examples.

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Section 2: System, State, and Administrator Engagement

  • Chapter 6

    Higher Education as a Complex Adaptive System: Considerations for Leadership and Scale

  • Chapter 7

    Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DMCP) Theory of Scale: Exploring State-Level Implementation Successes and Challenges

  • Chapter 8

    Counting on Our Future: First in the World (FITW) Maryland Mathematics Reform Initiative (MMRI)

  • Chapter 9

    The Grass Grows Green in Virginia: A Grassroots Effort Leading to Comprehensive Change in Removing Mathematics Barriers for Students

  • Chapter 10

    The Case for Mathematics Pathways from the Launch Years in High School through Postsecondary Education

Higher Education as a Complex Adaptive System: Considerations for Leadership and Scale

Jeremy Martin, The Charles A. Dana Center

As state policies, economic pressures, and enrollment declines increase pressure on higher education systems to rapidly improve student outcomes in mathematics, many institutions have transformed the way they do business and have adopted mathematics pathways at scale. At the same time, many systems of higher education have struggled to move from piloting mathematics pathways to implementing reforms at a scale that supports every student’s success in postsecondary mathematics. Drawing on complexity science, this chapter presents a conceptual framework for leaders at all levels of higher education systems to design change strategies for the adoption of mathematics pathways principles at scale.

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Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DMCP) Theory of Scale: Exploring State-Level Implementation Successes and Challenges

Heather Ortiz and Heather Cook, The Charles A. Dana Center 

In 2014, the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin developed a theoretical model called the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP) theory of scale, which defined a four-phase approach to coordinating, implementing, and scaling multiple mathematics pathways across diverse higher education ecosystems. This chapter highlights how the Dana Center has supported the four phases of system- and institutional-level engagement through its work across the country. 

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Counting on Our Future: First in the World (FITW) Maryland Mathematics Reform Initiative (MMRI)

DeWayne Morgan, Stephanie M. Hall, and Nancy S. Shapiro, University System of Maryland 

The Maryland Mathematics Reform Initiative (MMRI) is a collaborative effort between the public four-year University System of Maryland institutions and the community colleges in Maryland to develop and implement multiple, high-quality mathematics pathways. The focus is on the mathematics that is relevant for students’ chosen career paths while also ensuring that new courses have sufficient mathematical integrity and rigor to be deemed “college level.” This chapter presents a case study of the MMRI and the state’s efforts in undergraduate mathematics reform. 

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The Grass Grows Green in Virginia: A Grassroots Effort Leading to Comprehensive Change in Removing Mathematics Barriers for Students

Patricia M. Parker, Virginia Community College System 

The Virginia Community College System (VCCS) embarked on a comprehensive mathematics pathways project in October 2015 with a move from design to implementation in Spring 2017. The VCCS Mathematics Pathways Project (VMPP) aimed not only to develop strategies to improve retention and completion, but also to address foundational barriers to students’ success. This grassroots effort involved collaboration among all 23 community colleges, over 200 mathematics faculty, and staff from career and technical support departments. Collaboration extended to the K–12 and university sectors, professional organizations, publishers, and foundations. The focus of this chapter is how Virginia’s organization, processes, stakeholder collaboration, and communication laid the foundation to successfully implement this comprehensive project at scale.

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The Case for Mathematics Pathways from the Launch Years in High School through Postsecondary Education

Lindsay Perlmutter Fitzpatrick and Douglas Sovde, The Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin 

Students are often “misprepared” for the mathematics they will need to take in college. Mispreparedness is the misalignment of math requirements and student aspirations. This chapter examines the changing definitions of college readiness and practices in higher education mathematics that have a positive impact on student completion. It synthesizes this knowledge into four recommendations for K–12 districts, in partnership with higher education, that will improve student preparedness for college. 

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Section 3: State and Institutional Policy Enabled

  • Chapter 11

    The Missing Piece: The Transfer and Applicability of Mathematics Pathways

  • Chapter 12

    Why Placement Based on Algebra Doesn’t Add Up

  • Chapter 13

    Advising and Mathematics Pathways

The Missing Piece: The Transfer and Applicability of Mathematics Pathways

Carl Krueger, The Charles A. Dana Center 

The lack of predictable transfer policies between institutions and the inconsistent applicability of mathematics credits across departments and programs of study are significant barriers to student persistence and completion. While many states have policies designed to facilitate student transfer, they are not always used, not uniformly applied, and often prove to be ineffective in helping students advance to degree completion. Unlike the more widely understood idea of transfer and articulation, in which institutions are the unit of measure and medium for change, transfer and applicability is a student-centered approach of ensuring that mathematics pathways are properly aligned with academic and career interests. The purpose of this chapter is to examine how this emerging policy issue has the potential to positively impact student success and social mobility.

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Why Placement Based on Algebra Doesn’t Add Up

Lori Ann Austin, Raritan Valley Community College

Traditional college algebra placement policies, which too often rely on a single score that is generated from a computer-adapted placement exam to assess a student’s ability to succeed in a course, have recently come under scrutiny for misplacing students and leading to unnecessary remedial coursework. Recent research studies demonstrate that algebra skills alone do not predict success in college-level mathematics and persistence toward a degree. To address the situation, educational institutions around the country are adopting mathematics pathways models. This chapter presents evidence that placement in remedial/developmental algebra does not lead to student success in college courses or graduation. It then reviews placement practices that better assess students’ knowledge and experience for predicting success in their chosen major fields of study. Finally, the chapter argues that students, along with the guidance of trained advisors, should advocate for their own placement through a holistic assessment of their skills, abilities, and career aspirations. 

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Advising and Mathematics Pathways

Vanessa Harris, Major Change, LLC

Academic advising is a fundamental component to the success of students and to the effective implementation of mathematics pathways. The focus of this chapter is to describe the role of academic advising in assuring student success. It explores structures of effective academic advising, and the need for advisors’ perspectives and understanding in supporting students’ course and career choices. The importance of considering advising in the design and implementation of mathematics pathways, including suggestions for advising STEM majors, will be discussed. The chapter concludes with best practices in advising for faculty, institutions, and policy leaders when implementing mathematics pathways.

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Section 4: Equity and Culturally Reinforced

  • Chapter 14

    Mathematics Pathways and Equity: Considering Progress from Multiple Perspectives

  • Chapter 15

    Mathematics Pathways and Equity: Gateway Course Outcomes

Mathematics Pathways and Equity: Considering Progress from Multiple Perspectives

Alycia Marshall, Anne Arundel Community College
Francesca Fraga Leahy, Texas Education Agency
 

If progress is a matter of perspective, then what perspectives should practitioners and policymakers consider when viewing mathematics pathways through an equity lens?
To broaden and deepen the beneficial impact of the mathematics pathways movement, practitioners and policymakers should understand and address equity and student success implications from multiple perspectives. This chapter describes four perspectives on equity and student success and concludes with recommendations for successfully obtaining and maintaining “permission” to support broad scale and continuous improvement of mathematics pathways implementation.

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Mathematics Pathways and Equity: Gateway Course Outcomes 

Francesca Fraga Leahy, Texas Education Agency
Alycia Marshall, Anne Arundel Community College

Mathematics pathways seek to achieve comprehensive success outcomes for all students, especially underserved populations, by combining structural approaches to move students more quickly into credit-bearing gateway mathematics courses. This chapter presents findings from qualitative and quantitative reports of prominent mathematics pathways approaches to provide a picture of where mathematics pathways efforts are progressing toward achieving equity goals. Recommendations for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners are offered for consideration in the field.

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Emerging Issues in Mathematic Pathways: Case Studies, Scans from the Field, and Recommendations was an undertaking that involved organizations and individuals dedicated to higher education and student success. We are very grateful to the authors who contributed their knowledge and firsthand experience in the field, and to our writing coach, Nancy Kennedy, and copyeditor Amanda Laughtland.

We especially want to thank leaders at the Dana Center who provided support and expertise during this project: Uri Treisman, executive director; Carolyn Landel, managing director; and Martha E. Ellis, director, higher education strategy, policy, and services. Finally, we would like to thank the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust for providing financial support in making this monograph possible.

emerging issues team

Authors and editors in August 2017 (left to right): Back row: Patricia Parker, Carl Krueger, Francesca Fraga- Leahy, Michael Oehrtman, Jennifer Dorsey, Vanessa Harris, Francisco Savina, Richelle (Rikki) Blair, Jeremy Martin, Stuart Boersma, Heather Ortiz, and DeWayne Morgan. Middle row: Ophella Dano, Alycia Marshall, Heather Cook, Lori Austin, and Stephanie Hall. Front row (seated): Nancy Kennedy, Rebecca Hartzler, Connie Richardson, and Lucy Michal.

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