Developmental Math Students Cross the Bridge to College-level Courses

Female student solving math problem on chalkboard

Corbishley and Truxaw (2010) state, “The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has set ambitious goals for the teaching and learning of mathematics that include preparing students for both the workplace and higher education. While this suggests that it is important for students to develop strong mathematical competencies by the end of high school, there is evidence to indicate that overall this is not the case. Both national and international studies corroborate the concern that, on the whole, US 12th grade students do not demonstrate mathematical proficiency, suggesting that students making the transition from high school to college mathematics may not be ready for its rigors.”

As a seasoned mathematics educator, I agree with the veracity of the statement above. Many of our incoming freshmen do not have strong enough math skills to face the rigor of college math courses. To help these students prepare, Coppin State University has developed a summer bridge program, Summer Academic Success Academy, which ensures they meet Maryland’s College and Career Ready Standards. For the last five years (2010-2014), I have been the Summer Coordinator of Developmental Mathematics.

Our students are flagged for developmental math courses for a variety of reasons. Many students enter college with gaps in their skills. Many did not take our Accuplacer test seriously. Some students have met state requirements for math by 10th or 11th grade and do not take a math course during their senior year. When they don’t take math courses for several years, they forget many concepts. These students do not perform as well as students who are actively engaged in mathematics courses throughout high school. I am glad the state of Maryland (College and Career Readiness and Completion Act of 2013, SB 740) now requires four years of high school mathematics for all students.

Guiding Students toward Success

Because developmental courses do not count toward general education requirements in mathematics, we schedule these classes during the summer. Otherwise students have to take both courses during the regular academic school year, and they will be a semester behind in credits towards a college degree. To help students be successful in these preparatory classes, our instructors provide a lot of encouragement and support. In my experience, developmental mathematics students blossom with an appropriate support system that includes some of the following strategies.

  1. They need to have instructors who believe that they can be successful.
  2. They need to understand how to build on prior knowledge and transfer new information.
  3. Individual and group tutoring supports their understanding of key concepts.
  4. Asking questions and working independently does pay off.
  5. Integrating technology enhances the learning process.
  6. Ongoing feedback of student progress is beneficial to the instructor and student.
  7. Experience in applying mathematical knowledge to real life applications is invaluable.
  8. Creating a desire and passion in them to want to learn more and go to the next level is an investment in their future.

While we provide the support our students need, we also redesigned the Developmental Mathematics Program in 2005. Our further success has been attributed to these factors: All instructors teach from the same course syllabus; three-week test-out in Elementary Algebra option was installed; computer-aided instruction is aligned across all courses; ongoing progress updates are given to students when they complete tests, quizzes, and home assignments; implementation of office hours for one-on-one tutoring; face-to-face instruction occurs according to the scheduled class; and instructors send student alerts when attendance problems or lack of student commitment arises.

Benefits of Computer-aided Instruction

My students benefit from face-to-face as well as computer-aided instruction through MyFoundationsLab, which is aligned with the common core standards. Computer-aided instruction is phenomenal; it asks students questions in a step-by-step manner so that they excel. However, if they have a problem, they can email their instructor. They can request a video where a teacher walks through a mathematics problem step by step. Or, they can request another problem to make sure they really understand. They can get help at the zone of proximal development. This enables instructors to meet students at their needs. Sometimes this is all it takes to refocus students and get them engaged.

It would be advantageous for college bound students to get involved in an early intervention program. The 12th grade year of high school mathematics needs to be more meaningful so that the transition from high school mathematics to college level mathematics is achievable for all students. This challenge will dissipate with the rigor and attention to college-readiness standards.

Read about my course redesign in more detail in the full case study.


About the Author
Jean Ragin

Jean Ragin

Jean Ragin, Ed.D., is an assistant professor at Coppin State University. She teaches graduate courses as well as elementary and intermediate Algebra courses at the Summer Academic Success Academy. She has Intensive Education Program experience including the Upward Bound, the Maryland Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) Program, with at-risk students. She is involved with the university’s Budget Advisory Committee, the Dual Enrollment Committee, the Teacher Education Council, and more. Jean holds a doctorate in education from Nova Southern University, a master of science from Morgan State University, and a bachelor of science from Cheyney State University.



Corbishley, Jeffrey B. and Truxaw, Mary P. (February, 2010). Mathematical readiness of entering college freshmen: An exploration of perceptions of mathematics faculty, School Science & Mathematics, 110 (2), 71-85.