New Mathways Project Connects Students to Their Future

College students listening to a lecture

Math Pathways: From Obstacle to Opportunity

For those who teach mathematics, it is a tragedy that our field is often the obstacle that prevents college students from achieving their goals. The Charles A. Dana Center, among others, is engaged in a national effort to change mathematics back into an opportunity for students by redesigning entry-level mathematics programs with math pathways.

Why do we need change?

Given the rising cost of higher education, there is increasing emphasis on supporting students to complete a post-secondary certificate or degree quickly and efficiently. Mathematics has been identified as a significant barrier to this goal.

This issue was first raised when studies by the Community College Research Center and others showed that a majority of community college students were not college ready in math. These students were placed into developmental (non-college level) math sequences that often spanned two or more semesters.

The studies showed that very few of those students ever earned credit in a college level math course. Many experts concluded that the length of these sequences was actually decreasing students’ chances of completing a degree.

The content of these courses was also called into question. Their focus on algebraic manipulation did little to prepare students with the reasoning, problem-solving and data analysis skills necessary for most careers and the general needs of citizens in today’s society. This problem extends to college-level courses. College Algebra is the most commonly taken math course in college despite the fact that the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) noted in 2004 that is not well suited for many students. These are just a few of the drivers that led to the concept of mathematics pathways.

So, what are math pathways?

Generally speaking, a mathematics pathway is a course or sequence of courses that a student takes to fulfill the mathematics requirements for a program. The term is now commonly used as shorthand for a vision in which institutions offer a small number of accelerated math pathways aligned to programs of study. These two elements address the drivers described above.

To implement this vision, a college will designate three to five pathways that align with the mathematical needs of its programs. Usually one pathway is designed to prepare students for Calculus and resembles the traditional sequence with algebra-intensive content. Other common pathways include statistics, quantitative reasoning and “tech math,” which serves technical certificate programs.

Acceleration refers to giving students the opportunity to take a college level course as early as possible. Offering students the opportunity to enter differentiated pathways as described above makes acceleration feasible by focusing on content that is most relevant to the programs the pathway serves. There is less material to cover, and students are more successful because they are more engaged by the content.

Initiatives such as StatwayTM, the California Acceleration Project, the New Mathways Project (NMP) and state efforts in Tennessee and Indiana provide growing evidence that most students traditionally placed into developmental education can successfully earn college-level credit in statistics or quantitative reasoning in one year or less. These initiatives have found that “under-prepared” students can learn complex and rigorous mathematical concepts when taught in well-designed programs with integrated supports.

So far, these initiatives have focused on putting students into non-traditional pathways, i.e., statistics and quantitative reasoning. There has been limited work on redesigning and accelerating the pathway to Calculus.

How does the Dana Center support math pathways?

The Dana Center promotes math pathways through the New Mathways Project (NMP).  The NMP is a systemic approach to improving student success by reforming developmental and gateway mathematics based on four fundamental principles:

  1. Multiple pathways aligned to specific fields of study
  2. Acceleration that allows students to complete a college-level math course more quickly
  3. Intentional use of strategies to help students develop skills as learners
  4. Curriculum design and pedagogy based on proven practice

The Dana Center develops tools, resources and services to support faculty, colleges and states to implement math pathways based on these four principles.  As is indicated in the previous two sections, the first two principles address the essential structure and content of math pathways.  The last two address a finer level of detail around how the content will be delivered and how students will be supported.

Critical to the Dana Center’s work is the commitment to promoting the NMP principles without limiting how those principles will be implemented.  We believe that faculty and administrators need to make these decisions at the local level.  Therefore we provide a suite of planning tools to help colleges lead a rigorous and effective process of gathering data and input and designing pathways based on their local context.  These tools are largely open for anyone to use and are available on our website.

The Dana Center also works with coalitions of 2- and 4-year institutions often on a regional or state level to address inter-institutional issues such as state policies, placement, transfer and applicability.  The goal of this work is to create a positive policy environment for math pathways.

The Dana Center has also developed a suite of mathematics courses for three pathways as shown in the diagram below. The statistics and quantitative reasoning courses are developed. We are in the process of developing courses for a STEM-Prep pathway to Calculus, which will be piloted in the next year. These courses are being published through Pearson.New Mathways Project Diagram

Stay Informed and Implement Pathways!

Faculty and administrators interested in implementing math pathways are encouraged to review the resources on the Dana Center website including:


Sign up to receive monthly updates about the NMP and related efforts at mathways@austin.utexas.edu.

Learn more about Pearson’s partnership with the Charles A Dana Center in this press release.

 

Further resources regarding math pathways and NMP are listed here:

IHE webinar, The Path Less Completed

ebooklet, Remediation, Higher Education’s Bridge to Nowhere

The Daily Texan news website article, New Mathways Project

AACC 21st Century Center website article, Creating Pathways for Students to Complete Developmental Math

Stanford Social Innovation Review website article, Three Big Ideas for Designing Innovations to Work at Scale

 

 

About the Author
Amy Getz, M.A.

Amy Getz, M.A.

Amy Getz is the Strategic Implementation Lead for the Higher Education Team at the Charles A. Dana Center. Her work focuses on the reform of developmental and gateway mathematics programs at community colleges and four-year institutions through working with state and regional systems. Amy led the team that developed and implemented the New Mathways Project in Texas and is currently leading work to expand the NMP to new states. Amy also led the development of the Quantway™ curriculum in partnership with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  Before joining the Dana Center, she taught mathematics for 20 years in high school and college. As the founding director of the Freshman Mathematics Program at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, Amy taught developmental and freshman-level math and led curriculum redesign that resulted in significant improvements in student success in both developmental and college-level math courses. She also led initiatives to provide professional learning services to K–12 math educators.