Overcoming Hurdles to Help Developmental Math Students Succeed

College student solving math problem on dry erase board

Nearly 70% of students at South Arkansas Community College (SouthArk) need math remediation before entering college-level courses. SouthArk has a combination of traditional and nontraditional students, some are directly out of high school, some chose to work a couple years then decided to return, while others have not been to college for decades. With such a diverse group of students, Assistant Professor Joseph Agbeko and his colleagues have been working for years trying to improve the pass rates in their three developmental math courses: Fundamentals of Arithmetic, Elementary Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra. In this blog post he discusses what they have done to help improve learning outcomes for students and their success.


Q. What are some of the main things developmental math students struggle with?

Joseph: I have been working at SouthArk since August 2010 and right from the start, I saw the struggles of students in our developmental math classes. Prior to the redesign (that is until 2011) SouthArk offered developmental math classes using the emporium (self-paced) model without significant success. Low pass rates adversely affected student morale and retention rates; students complained as they were forced to repeat courses and instructors struggled to make the model work. So I believe it’s not the software that was being used, but rather the delivery system did not work well with the student body that we have. So the main struggle could have been attributed to the delivery system and the curriculum content that came with it.

Q. Once you and your team identified some of the key areas where students struggle, what did you decide to change in your courses?

Joseph: After several meetings and deliberations on the pass rates, morale of students, and retention rates, my colleagues and I, with the approval of the college, decided to adopt a new delivery system together with a new math software whose curriculum content met the needs of the group of students we have; hence the hybrid system and Pearson’s MyLabsPlus, the enterprise version of MyMathLab.

Q. How did you assess improvements in student learning?

Joseph: The new approach requires students to attend class four days a week– two in lecture/discussion and two in computer labs with qualified tutors and instructors. Assignments are developed with prerequisites for progression and due dates. Students use MyLabsPlus for homework, quizzes, tests, and the final exam. They also use its Study Plan and interactive learning features. The immediate feedback they get and the more contact hours they have with their instructors not only reinforces learning, but also helps build their morale in math.

Q. Once you had redesigned your course using the hybrid model, what were some of the things instructors did to improve student engagement and motivation?

Joseph: Instructors use a variety of MyLabsPlus diagnostics and features to evaluate student strengths and weaknesses, including the Study Plan and Item Analysis feature in the Gradebook guiding them in their formative and summative assessments. Instructors also do several things to motivate students. For example, any student with 100% score on all assignments assigned for a week is given a pass to skip (be excused) from the second lab day for that week.

Q. How do you continually assess your classes and decide to make further improvement?

Joseph: The Item Analysis feature in the Gradebook is the main tool that is used to specifically identify content areas that need improvement or need to be removed. This is normally done as the semester progresses, and also at the end the semester for future classes.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Joseph: Achieving this level of success in our developmental level math classes can be attributed three main factors: (1) the teamwork of dedicated instructors, (2) the new model’s use of both classroom instruction and individualized lab work, and (3) the support of Pearson’s software and textbooks. We have begun pilot testing our college level math classes with the same approach and the expectations are high.

Read more about how Assistant Professor Agbeko successfully redesigned his courses, including statistical results in this case study.



About Assistant Professor Joseph Agbeko

Joseph D. K. M. A. Agbeko is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics, and Coordinator for Developmental Math at South Arkansas Community College, in Arkansas. In 2009, he received his Master of Science degree with mathematics major and computer science minor from Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio. Prior to this, in 2006, he graduated with a Bachelor of Education-Science degree with physics major and mathematics minor from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. Throughout his educational career, Professor Agbeko has always had the passion to teach and help students succeed. Because of his passion, he has lead the faculty to redesign their three levels of developmental math courses, which has brought about changes in students’ attitudes towards math, and a measurable increase in student pass rates, success rates, and retention rates. He also recently authored an article titled A Developmental Math Delivery System that Works that was published by Pearson.