Sac State says it’s succeeding in getting students’ math skills to acceptable level
November 19, 2012
• A better way than typical remedial courses?
• “It gives students a different mindset”
If 7a−7b=15, then a−b= ? Did you get it? This is a typical question on California’s Entry Level Mathematics exam, given to many incoming students at California State University. Many fail the test, requiring costly and time consuming remedial courses.
But now eight out of ten Sacramento State University students are passing a special yearlong course designed to get their math skills up to an acceptable level and satisfy the math requirement, the university says.
“This method works, both in terms of using the resources and time in an efficient manner, getting students into their majors and improving our graduation rates,” says Coskun Cetin, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, who introduced back-to-back pilot courses, one focused on remedial math topics and basic probability and statistics concepts, with a second course delving further into inferential statistics applications.
Unless they have an exemption, all undergraduates entering California State University must take the Entry Level Mathematics (ELM) exam prior to enrolling for their first semester and score 50 or better to pass.
“Thirty to 40 percent of our students don’t pass the ELM test,” says Mr. Cetin. “They need some guidance, some remediation. For some students, it’s a big burden, because they don’t need a lot of math to graduate in their major.”
In the pilot program, if students don’t have the remediation requirements satisfied but are close to passing the ELM, they are selected for instruction in some of the needed algebra concepts with statistics content. “So they don’t need to take all of those courses in math and try to attempt the diagnostics test repeatedly. It’s a waste of resources and time,” he says.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching created the “Statistics Pathway” program a few years ago to help struggling remedial-math students in community colleges earn transferable college statistics credit in just one year.
Sacramento State is one of just three universities, along with 19 junior colleges, in the founding cohort.
Students who successfully complete Stat 96A will get
The pilot program is now in its second year, offering two sections of each course.
“It gives students a different mindset about having to learn, having to study and having to test well,” says Mr. Cetin. “Math is a challenging concept. In this course, we say, ‘You cannot give up. There are going to be some difficult concepts, but you have to continue working on them. You have to spend time to get to the truth, and sometimes there is not just one truth,’ and in statistics, that’s OK.”
Generally, students enrolled in the special courses will not continue on in math or science, the university says. Even so, they learn basic algebra skills, quantitative reasoning skills and how get inference with the data, all of which will be helpful for the rest of their lives.