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Can a High School Math Class Help Students Avoid Remediation in College?

By Brenda Iasevoli — December 22, 2017 2 min read
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Kansas high schools are piloting a yearlong math course that aims to save students time and money once they enter college.

Too many students get to college and end up taking remedial math courses that don’t count towards a degree. Of the Kansas students who attend two- and four-year colleges, one-third fail math-placement tests, meaning they can’t enroll directly into a required algebra course.

It all adds up to wasted time and money. Students end up paying for extra courses just to get ready for the math classes they’ll be required to take in college.

The problem isn’t unique to Kansas. Nationwide, 4 in 10 students at public four-year institutions, and two-thirds of those at community colleges, need remedial classes, reports Catherine Gerwetz, in this Education Week article on the rise in 12th-grade transition courses across the country.

Many states are trying out transition classes as a way to smooth the path from high school to higher ed. High school and college professors join together to create math and English courses that are up to college standards. More than 35 Kansas high schools piloted the Transition to College Algebra Course in the 2016-2017 school year, and 15 more offered the course the following year. The class stresses group work, as opposed to lecturing.

Students qualify to take the transition course if they score less than a 22 out of a possible 36 on the ACT math test, or score between elementary algebra and college algebra on the Accuplacer placement test. Participating colleges agree to accept post-transition-course test scores in order to place students in math classes once they enroll in college.

The collaboration between high school teachers and college professors has proved to be a winning combination in the South Los Angeles Math (SLAM) project. Instructors work together to help students pass Math 109, a credited course at California State University-Los Angeles that allows students to skip remedial work. SLAM students achieve a 75 percent pass rate in Math 109, as compared to 71 percent among students already enrolled at the university. SLAM students also enjoy a 100 percent college-persistence rate, meaning they all returned for a second year. This Education Week blog has more findings.

Melissa Fast, a math consultant with the Kansas department of education, is in the midst of evaluating the tests that students took before and after the transition class, according to Kansas City’s public radio station KCUR. So far, the data looks encouraging.

“They’re understanding the math that they didn’t understand maybe when they took the pretest,” Fast told the radio station. “And a lot of them are placing directly into college algebra.”

Image: pixabay.com

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.