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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

June 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New course can help vault students into college-level math

Photo by Eric Jacobs for The Seattle Times 2006

Photo by Eric Jacobs for The Seattle Times

One of the most vexing problems for community colleges is the number of first-year students whose math scores don’t measure up.

About half of all students who graduate from Washington high schools and immediately enter community college require remedial math  usually called “developmental math”  before they can begin fulfilling their college-level math requirements.

This fall, though, 11 school districts are piloting a new math class for high-school seniors who have struggled with the subject. Under an agreement with the state’s public colleges, students who get at least a B in the class, called “Bridge to College Mathematics,” will be admitted into college-level math, said Bill Moore, who is overseeing the project for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

The course is being developed in cooperation with the SBCTC, the state’s four-year public colleges and with high-school math teachers, Moore said. Several Seattle public high schools are part of the pilot.

The course will work in conjunction with the Common Core Smarter Balanced exams, which will be given starting in 2015 to 11th-grade students to assess their skills. Students who score a 3 or 4 in math on those exams will be considered college-ready for math, but those who score a 2  just below college-ready  can take the bridge course their senior year, Moore said. If they get a B, they’ll be given the same college placement as if they scored a 3.

Another part of the deal: Graduating seniors who get a B in the course must sign up for math as soon as they enter college, Moore said. That will prevent students from putting off math courses, because “the longer they delay, the more problems they have” with passing math, he said.

Moore characterized “Bridge to College Mathematics” as a mixture of algebra 1 and 2, with a focus on teaching students to reason mathematically, to know how to approach solving problems and to be precise with their work. The course will also cover some probability and statistics topics.

Both the Smarter Balanced exams and the bridge course for those that don’t do well on it will help community colleges map a path around the most common method of assessing math skills today: the standardized placement test administered to incoming students, Moore said. Not only do many students do poorly on those tests, but they also are a poor predictor of a student’s actual math skills. And students who are placed in developmental math are more likely to drop out of community college without finishing a degree or credential.

A similar bridge course for students who don’t score well on the English portion of the Smarter Balanced exam is also being developed, Moore said.

The pilot project is being funded by three foundations, Lumina, Hewlitt and Gates. (The Seattle Times Education Lab is funded in part by the Gates Foundation.)

Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, math

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