Even though enrollment in community colleges is steadily increasing, graduation and transfer rates remain disappointingly low. Developmental (or remedial) math is arguably the greatest stumbling block to community college completion. With multiple exit points along the way, traditional developmental math sequences can be long and may not be optimally structured to retain students or help them learn the skills they need to succeed in college-level work. Research shows that many students exit the sequence before completing it, either because they fail a course, do so poorly that they give up, or fail to enroll in the necessary courses at all. Moreover, developmental math classes are characterized by lectures and by rote, procedural learning — an approach that may inhibit not only students’ mathematical proficiency but also their engagement in college.
In response to these challenges and low success rates, reforms to accelerate students through developmental math sequences are gaining momentum across the country. These reforms restructure course sequence, content, pacing, and/or the pedagogical approach in an effort to move students into college-level courses more quickly.
The Developmental Education Acceleration Project will test the effectiveness of two such programs. The first, ModMath at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, employs a modularized approach that divides three semesters-worth of developmental math curriculum into six discrete modules, allowing students to enter the developmental math sequence at a point that is most appropriate given their skills, and to leave and return without losing as much ground as they would in semester-length courses. The second study is assessing the effects of a new state policy that requires colleges to place students with very low math placement test scores in “pre-developmental” math programs. Two sites are participating: Tarrant County College and Houston Community College. The former site is implementing a open-entry “boot camp” operated with Adult Basic Education funds and staff, while the latter site operates a four-week “bridge” course.