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Saturday, February 04, 2017

Trying to Solve a Bigger Math Problem | New York Times

Photo: Emily Hanford
"Algebra is a stumbling block for many freshmen. But do so many need to be in a remedial class?" reports Emily Hanford, senior education correspondent for APM Reports and producer of the audio documentary “Stuck at Square One: The Remedial Education Trap.”
Photo: New York Times

Algebra is clearly a stumbling block for many incoming college students. Nearly 60 percent of community college students end up in remedial math — that’s more than double the number in remedial English. Four-year public colleges are not far behind. According to government studies, 40 percent of their incoming students take at least one remedial class; 33 percent are in math.

One explanation is obvious: limited academic preparation. Another is that much of the community college population is older, and rusty at factoring quadratics and finding inverse functions. Less obvious is that students end up in remediation who don’t need to be there.

There’s evidence for this, most recently in an analysis published in September by the National Center for Education Statistics. To determine if students are ready for college-level work, colleges often rely on one thing: the score on a test, be it the ACT, SAT or Accuplacer, the most common of the placement tools.

But when the N.C.E.S. took a deeper look and considered two additional factors — grade-point average and level of math taken in high school — it found that 40 percent of “strongly prepared” students at public two-year colleges and 13 percent at four-year institutions had taken remedial math.

Further, moderately or strongly prepared students were more likely to get a bachelor’s degree if they skipped remediation altogether and went straight to college-level classes.

Why? Researchers aren’t sure, but they suspect that many students assigned to remedial education, which costs money but doesn’t count for credit, get frustrated and give up on college.

Source: New York Times