Information for: Policymakers, representatives of policy agencies, decision leaders, and key stakeholders at the regional and state level.

Role in Mathematics Pathways

Those who work in policy or are in policy-related positions at the state and regional levels are uniquely positioned to help remove barriers to student success and adopt strategies designed to increase productivity and reduce costs to students, institutions, and taxpayers alike. These individuals should work with and through mathematics faculty and higher education leaders to identify barriers, support implementation, and build a sense of ownership in the work.

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Essential Ideas

  • Essential Idea 1

    Use multiple measures that allow for differentiated placement into math pathways.

  • Essential Idea 2

    Implement accelerated pathways that allow students to effectively move to and through college-level math.

  • Essential Idea 3

    Improve student transfer between institutions by addressing issues related to articulation and applicability.

  • Essential Idea 4

    Continuously collect and analyze robust student-level data to determine if goals are being met and if improvements are needed.

  • Essential Idea 5

    Maintain focus on the needs of low-income students and students of color to ensure equal access to educational and career opportunities .

Policy can be used to remove barriers or challenges to student persistence and success at the postsecondary level by supporting multiple math pathways related to student interests and employment needs. The Charles A. Dana Center believes that algebraic standards should not be the sole determinant of college readiness or student advancement. Rather, multiple placement and success measures should be aligned appropriately to different math pathways. In addition to an assessment of academic skills, placement policies and processes should take career goals, prior academic experience, and non-cognitive factors into account in order to better predict and support student success.

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By accelerating the time it takes to move from developmental coursework to college-level math and beyond, states have the opportunity to improve outcomes and reduce the cost of a postsecondary education. The Dana Center advocates for making a one-semester corequisite the default option for most students. We also recognize that there are students who are not successful in current corequisite models. Although we are not able to identify those students at this time, early evidence indicates that non-cognitive factors and “college skills” may be more critical than mathematical preparation. We encourage policy agencies and policymakers to work collaboratively with their constituents to collect data to better understand this critical question and to create a policy environment that promotes evidence-based practices without deterring innovation.

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Students attending community colleges not only have to contend with disconnected math sequences, but also disconnected systems of transfer to four-year institutions. By ensuring smooth transfer between the systems, policymakers can foster persistence and completion rates for all students, regardless of background or academic standing. Helping to define common courses and articulation agreements, as well as providing guidance regarding applicability of math courses to different programs of study, will help students move through the higher education pipeline and into successful careers more easily and quickly.

The applicability of credit earned in mathematics courses to other fields of study is of paramount concern, and the Dana Center recommends that states and institutions work with department chairs to help inform faculty and determine how to best transition to better aligned pathways.


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States and institutions should evaluate work on math pathways in terms of progress towards implementation at scale and effectiveness of improving student learning and success. (See how the Dana Center defines student success.) The most compelling evidence that multiple pathways are having an impact on student success is the comprehensive data showing progress over time. Therefore, data-driven decision making should guide the implementation, analysis, and refinement of math pathways in the states. Not only can systematic data collection identify students in need of additional supports, but it can also determine the most effective interventions and ascertain if multiple pathways have an impact on student learning. From the very outset, states should create the capacity and mechanisms to collect data and track progress in order to improve student outcomes and bolster institutional productivity.

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Lone Star College - Kingwood student Alisha Saulter describes her experience in a course aligned with the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways Model

Research has shown that low-income students and students of color are disproportionately underrepresented in postsecondary STEM education and careers, with many of them dropping out of the higher education pipeline after failing to complete developmental or entry-level college math courses. By expanding the learning opportunities available to low-income and minority students, policymakers are also expanding access to high-quality, relevant math pathways designed to prepare students for jobs that pay a living wage and allow for social mobility.

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