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Math refresher aims to boost students' progress

Math Professor Barbara Lott works with Heather Orellano in the math lab. Lott says the individualized learning in SLS 1533 will prepare students to move faster through developmental math.

To help students complete college faster, Seminole State College of Florida will pilot two six-week classes this summer designed to move students quickly from developmental to college-credit math courses.

Achievement in Mathematics (SLS 1533), a one-credit course that starts May 8, is aimed at those first-time-in-college students who need some extra help with their mathematics before entering college-level classes. The course will include a refresher component, or math “boot camp,” tailored to each student’s individual needs.

Tommy Minton, associate dean of mathematics at Seminole State, says the course isn’t new; however, this pilot course’s customized approach is.

Students are placed in developmental courses if their placement test scores indicate they need further instruction in certain areas before entering college-level classes.

Recent high school graduates are generally “college-ready” because of state requirements for testing and remediation in high school, says Dr. Mark Morgan, associate vice president for Institutional Effectiveness and Research at Seminole State. “But students coming to college for the first time after being out of school for years may need a refresher to become college-ready.” About 40 percent of students entering Seminole State need developmental math.

Minton says research indicates that the faster students get through developmental math, the more likely they are to complete college.

“The goal is to catch students after they’ve taken a placement test but before they’ve taken their first developmental math class,” Minton says. “Then we hope to get them either better prepared for the class they’ve placed into – or placed into a higher-level math class.”

The pilot course takes place in the context of a national debate in educational circles about the amount of time and limited Pell Grant dollars that students are spending on remedial classes that don’t count toward a college degree.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has found that 70 percent of students who place into developmental math do not complete the required courses. Students who rely on federal Pell Grants but are unable to move beyond developmental math can run out of money fast. The grants pay for up to 30 hours of developmental coursework, but new Pell Grant eligibility rules limit students to 12 semesters. Students who require several developmental courses can use up their Pell Grants and be unable to afford a college education.

Seminole State math Professor Eden Donahou says that Seminole State’s pilot program will address the problems of credit hours and financial aid.

“Students who take Achievement in Mathematics will get a college credit for this class instead of taking a developmental class they might not need and won’t get credit for,” Donahou says. In addition to receiving a college credit, students will work on their specific math learning gaps, as assessed by interactive, Web-based software developed by ALEKS Corp.

If students are able to test into a higher-level developmental math class, or directly into a college-level class, they’ll save money and time on remedial math classes.

Math Professor Barbara Lott, who teaches SLS 1533, says the customized learning in the “boot camp” portion of the class will be an incentive for students.

“If we have a student working on college algebra, that’s fine,” Lott says. “If we have a student working on basic arithmetic, that’s fine too. ALEKS will give them the flexibility they need, with examples, solutions and explanations, and they can work on ALEKS as often as they please.”

Seminole State has been using ALEKS software in several math classes since 2011. ALEKS, which stands for Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces, helped to boost pass rates in those classes.

As part of the pilot program, Seminole State math faculty will track students’ progress in their subsequent math classes.

“We want to track the correlation between students’ success in this class and their performance in the next class they place into,” Lott says. “If there’s a strong enough correlation, we’ll share our results with other colleges.”

Seminole State's Summer Term classes begin May 8. For more information, or to register for classes, please visit Seminole State's apply/register page.

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