College & Workforce Readiness

Seniors At Risk of Remediation Take College-Level Course During School Day

By Marva Hinton — April 08, 2016 4 min read
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A unique, dual-enrollment program in California is having success with students deemed at risk of needing remediation in college.

Seniors participating in the South Los Angeles Math, or SLAM, Project take a free, college-level math course during the regular school day on their high school campus.

“Typically, for concurrent enrollment or dual-enrollment classes it is almost exclusively off campus and typically after school,” said Pedro Cevallos, principal investigator of the project and executive director of College Bridge, a nonprofit that works to help underrepresented students make it to college and succeed there.

Cevallos says that model wouldn’t work for most of the students in the SLAM Project.

“A lot of the students that we serve are low-income, so a lot of them work to support their families and to help support themselves,” said Cevallos. “We knew that it would be inappropriate to have a class after school because we would exclude the bulk of the students.”

Students do take a field trip to the campus once during the term to learn more about the resources available there and to meet former SLAM participants who are now in college.

Focus on Math Remediation

The SLAM Project is a partnership between College Bridge, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and California State University, Los Angeles, or CSULA. The project is part of a nine-year longitudinal study by College Bridge on how best to increase college access and success for underrepresented students. It focuses on decreasing the need for math remediation.

College Bridge reports that in 2014, 55 percent of CSULA freshmen required remedial math courses in a costly proposition for the school and the students.

“Students, especially our underrepresented students, are really harmed by remediation because they accumulate greater debt, they drop out at a significantly higher rate than other students, and even those who are able to progress through remediation end up taking longer to graduate, delaying their entrance into the workforce,” said Cevallos.

A new report by College Bridge takes a look at where the SLAM Project is in year three and found that students in the program had a 30 percent remediation rate compared to 76 percent for the control group. The SLAM students also had an 82 percent matriculation rate compared with an average of 54 percent for the schools served. And, all of the students from the first SLAM Project cohort went on to successfully complete the first year of college and start year two.

How the SLAM Project Works

So far, the program has been implemented at three Title I high schools with a record of a significantly large number of graduates needing math remediation in college. In order to participate, students must have completed Algebra 2 with at least a C, must want to attend a four-year college, and must be ineligible to take calculus.

“Historically, in this country concurrent enrollment or dual enrollment is often reserved for the gifted and talented student, and we wanted to make sure that we served students who were typically excluded from these opportunities and give them a shot at earning college credit and bypassing remediation,” said Cevallos.

Students in the program take the CSULA course Math 109 Quantitative Reasoning with Statistics. In the first year at each school, a CSULA professor teaches the class with a high school teacher. In the second year, that teacher goes on to teach the course with a fellow high school teacher, and in the third year that teacher takes on the course alone.

Cevallos says that leads to bi-directional professional development, “where the high school teacher is learning what’s expected in college-level mathematics [and] the professor is learning how to work with this population and refine pedagogy.”

Students who earn a C or better in the course are awarded general education math credit and satisfy all remediation requirements at any of the California State University campuses.

Student Benefits

The students who take the course report learning more about how college works. For example, most professors don’t provide opportunities to earn extra credit, and there aren’t homework grades to help pull up a low average on exams.

“It helped me with my math skills in general,” said one student quoted in the College Bridge report. “It also helped me to gain knowledge about how the college setting works. It helped me understand how studying and learning the material is more valuable than just ‘passing the class.’”

Along the way some of the students also reported learning new things about themselves. Some who came in not liking math or not planning to pursue a career related to math changed their minds.

So far, 169 students have participated in the program. Next year five more schools will add it.

Photo: SLAM Project students take a field trip to CSULA. (College Bridge)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.