To accelerate mathematics or not to accelerate – that is the question

Female asian student working on a laptop in a library

acceleration, noun ac·cel·er·a·tion \ik-ˌse-lə-ˈrā-shən, (ˌ)ak-\: the act or process of moving faster or happening more quickly: the act or process of accelerating. (merriam-webster.com)

 

Currently, the pressure is on for accelerated math. All higher education math faculty are being asked to accelerate and move students through their math requirements and push them to graduate quicker. The pressure is coming from administration, legislators, policy makers, and the general public. In many states, the local economy is dependent upon increasing the number of college graduates with a STEM background. The combination of political pressure and money is causing a certain amount of angst amongst many higher education math departments and faculty. The question remains though, is this the best way to learn mathematics and to retain the knowledge necessary to succeed in further mathematics and/or science courses?

Academic accelerated math seems to be centered around remediation and decreasing the time needed to relearn concepts that should have been learned previously. Math Boot Camps are certainly a way to accelerate students. In the summer of 2010, I partnered with our disabilities services and piloted a novel concept of remediating students in five days to increase success on the college placement exam. I had a “hunch” that students would be able to remediate quickly, take the placement exam again, and move into higher levels of mathematics. I was spot on! Today, at Quinsigamond Community College, a large number of Math Boot Camps are offered each year that work to rapidly remediate students and, by way of the math placement exam, move them as high as possible in the mathematics sequence. Today, this form of academic acceleration focused on remediation is common across our country and has proven to be quite effective.

Math equations written on a green chalkboard with a finger pointingCorequisite remediation is another form of academic acceleration. This relatively new strategy is placing students directly into college-level, credit-bearing courses with a just-in-time remediation approach. The plan is to increase support services so that previous developmental math students would be able to be successful in a college-level course. This acceleration plan can be wrought with controversy and faculty push-back. Complete College America is touting this strategy as one of their “game changers” and has examples to show. The State of Georgia is an example of statewide implementation. Unfortunately, as with anything new, there is no long-term data to support this program. Many highly experienced faculty struggle with placing underprepared students into a higher level course. What happens if they are not successful? Presently, some states are mandating this course of action but, is this the best way to learn mathematics and retain the knowledge for future classes? It appears, for the most part, that academic acceleration is relegated to the arena of remediation. As we progress up the mathematical sequence, it appears that we settle back into the more traditional modality.

As we move forward with accelerated math, we are faced with the dilemma of quantity vs. quality. The higher education administrators, state legislators, policy makers, etc., are pushing for quantity; move students through their developmental math course(s) as fast as possible and get them into their college-level course quickly. Unfortunately, many students struggled with their mathematics for years through their K-12 education and now, upon entering college, they are being pushed into mathematics courses that they may be underprepared for. The educational practitioners in mathematics need to keep their focus student-centered and try to ensure the educational integrity and high quality of mathematical education for all students. With the growing need for more STEM students, it is our obligation to be sure that learners are well prepared. With this large push for acceleration, will students just accomplish a course without the strong foundation they need and deserve?

 

Professor Grimaldo was one of our featured speakers at ICTCM 2016. Access more than 30 dynamic sessions by registering through the virtual track. Or if you have an idea for next year, submit a proposal.

 

About the Author
Andreana Grimaldo

Andreana Grimaldo

Andreana Grimaldo grew up in New Hampshire and received her Associate’s Degree in Business from Becker College in Massachusetts. She later earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Master of Science in Applied Mathematics from Worcester State University. Andreana has taught many levels of math from developmental through calculus, beginning as an individual instructor to at-risk and non-English-speaking students. She started teaching as an adjunct professor at Quinsigamond Community College in 1990, became a full-time professor in 2003, and is currently Chair of the Department of Mathematics. In 2007, Andreana was awarded the NISOD Teaching and Leadership Excellence Award.

Andreana is a Boston sports fan and her hobbies include golfing, reading, learning, and family activities. Her greatest passions are her family and “figuring out ways to excite students about mathematics.” She is the author of two developmental mathematics programs published by Pearson Education:MyMathLab for INTRO Algebra, and a new All in One solution,MyMathLab for Developmental Mathematics: Prealgebra, Introductory Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra.