Math changes this fall include new course and new ‘pathways’

MCC math faculty formed a Math Pathways Committee to examine mathematics courses and implement changes.

Metropolitan Community College students are seeing some changes in math course offerings this year, including one new course, Mathematical Literacy, and others that have been overhauled. Students are also now able to enroll in math courses that better fit their expected career fields.

MCC announced in 2017 that college algebra would no longer be required for some students. Instead, as of Spring 2018, they’ve had two other course options to satisfy the math requirement for the MCC associate in arts degree as well as bachelor’s degree programs at other institutions.

Among the changes effective this semester: The number of developmental math courses shrunk from three to two. (Developmental courses prepare students for college-level coursework.) Also, depending on their degree program and career choice, developmental students can select either a STEM or non-STEM path as they progress toward the math class required for their degree. STEM is short for science, technology, engineering and math.

“The idea is that students will be more successful because they’ll take math classes that are more relevant to their program of study,” says MCC math instructor Jason Pallett. Moreover, it helps students graduate more quickly.

Getting to the gateway

One reason for the changes: Some MCC students have had to take three developmental math courses that didn’t count toward their degree before they could enroll in the “gateway” math class, the one that does count. Until Fall 2017, that had been Math 120, College Algebra.

All those courses led not only to student frustration but also limited student success. Almost half the students in some developmental classes earned a D or F or withdrew from the course.

State legislation now calls for Missouri institutions of higher education to employ best practices in remediation, says MCC-Maple Woods math instructor Bill Morgan. The state Coordinating Board for Higher Education issued 13 pages of guidelines for developmental courses, including that students should be able to complete gateway courses as quickly as possible. The guidelines also address the alternatives to college algebra.

In addition, the CBHE suggested that some students might benefit from self-paced, mastery-based programs. MCC now uses the ALEKS program in some developmental math courses. Students work at their own pace on computers, but a math instructor and embedded student tutor are also on hand in those classes.

A lot of data

Morgan says that passage of the state legislation, formation of a Missouri math pathways task force and MCC receiving three Title III research grants from the U.S. Department of Education (known at MCC as the FOCUS grants) all happened at about the same time. “We knew that our developmental math needed to be improved,” he adds.

The mission of the Title III grants is to better serve first-year students. At MCC, much of the work has centered on developmental math and English.

Pilot, or test, courses in developmental math were launched on each MCC campus. Morgan estimates that 2,000 students or so enrolled in the math pilots.

“The numbers required in the pilots were large,” Pallett says. “We had to enroll 1,000 students in the fall of 2016 in our math pilots, which was different than anything that had been done previously. So it gave us a lot of data and a lot of students to look at.”

Lessons learned

One takeaway from those pilot math courses was that the computer-based ALEKS program worked well for some students but not all. In general, students who logged the most hours in ALEKS mastered the most topics.

Another lesson learned: Students can rise to the occasion. Morgan says one course that combined two previous math courses gave students the option to complete it in one semester or two. Most took two. But when the same combo course didn’t offer a second-semester option, the result was different.

“When we expected students to get through all that material in one semester, students did it,” Morgan says.

The process of revamping the developmental and gateway math courses “turned out to be pretty good for us as a mathematics discipline,” Pallett says. Faculty organized an in-house math summit in May 2016 to which they invited a state education official.

The MCC Math Pathways Committee that resulted from the summit has been “a really good venue for us to have consistent communication,” Pallett adds. “We’ve worked mostly on the implementation of the new pathways, but we also have had several tangential conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Changes in MCC’s math pathways

Here’s a closer look at MCC’s math options effective this semester:

The first developmental course is now Math 31, Pre-College Mathematics.

From there, students take either the STEM or non-STEM route. Non-STEM students move on to Math 85, Mathematical Literacy, the new course. There’s no focus on algebra in Math 85, Pallett says. Instead, “the intent is to use more active and collaborative learning to put the mathematics into a real-world context for students.”

STEM students take Math 95, Algebra Principles. This course replaces Math 110R, Intermediate Algebra with Review.

From Math 85, non-STEM students then progress to a required (gateway) math course, either Math 115, Statistics, or Math 119, Mathematical Reasoning and Modeling. The statistics course curriculum has been slightly altered while Math 119 has been changed significantly, Morgan says.

From Math 95, STEM students take Math 120, College Algebra, or Math 150, Pre-Calculus, a five-hour class that combines algebra and trigonometry. (A student who, after Math 95, decides the STEM pathway is not for them can enroll in Math 115 or Math 119.)

MCC’s District Instructional Coordinating Committee (DICC) approved in November 2017 the addition of Math 85 and changes to Math 115 and 119. Following that, Morgan and Pallett started an education campaign to make sure everyone, including students and academic advisors, understood the changes.

Last spring, the new Math 85 course was piloted on four of the five campuses to give instructors some experience with the class before it was rolled out this semester.

This story was originally published Dec. 4, 2017. It has been updated.