MDRC in the News

Mass. State Colleges Are Trying to Solve a Math Problem

The Boston Globe


Carrie Hale had spent years in low-paying jobs — cleaning houses and bagging groceries — followed by bouts of unemployment, before finally deciding to enroll in community college at age 30.

That leap was even harder than she imagined. She bombed the standardized test for math placement, which meant she had to spend three long semesters and more than $2,000 in financial aid taking remedial classes that didn’t even count toward her degree. The result: Graduating with a two-year’s associate’s degree will take her about four full years…..

…..Consider this: For every 100 community college students who must take a review math course before they can move on to classes that count toward their degree, only 60 complete it. And of those, only 21 go on to finish within two years a math course that provides them credit toward a degree, according to 2012 data. These remedial math classes have earned comparisons to quicksand, particularly for black and Latino students, who can get trapped in them and never come out with a degree…..

…..Massachusetts is among several states nationwide overhauling their math programs and developing courses that are more applicable to a student’s major, with remedial work that can be completed in a semester.

The “pathways” model has shown some early success, said Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, a senior associate with MDRC, a nonprofit education and social policy organization based in New York, who is studying its impact on college success.

Students at four Texas community colleges who took the revamped remedial math classes were 11 percentage points more likely to pass the class than those in a traditional algebra pathway.

Whether the class prepares them for other math they have to take and is rigorous enough to ensure they succeed and graduate with a degree on time is still being studied, Zachry Rutschow said…..

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