Fast Forward

A Case Study of Two Community College Programs Designed to Accelerate Students Through Developmental Math

By Kelley Fong, Mary Visher

Community colleges face significant challenges retaining their diverse population of students and helping them progress to graduation. A key barrier is the developmental (or remedial) coursework in reading, writing, and/or mathematics to which a majority of entering students are referred. These lengthy sequences — often required for college-level work — can be daunting, and many students leave college before completing their developmental requirements, let alone attaining a credential. Developmental math, in particular, is a substantial stumbling block to college completion.

To support colleges as they address these challenges, Lumina Foundation for Education launched a national initiative, Achieving the Dream, in 2004. Today, Achieving the Dream is a nonprofit reform network working with nearly 200 colleges nationwide. Many Achieving the Dream colleges and others are experimenting with ways to reform developmental education. Gaining momentum are “acceleration” strategies, which modify the structure and/or pedagogy of developmental math courses to help students move more quickly toward college-level coursework. This report presents a case study of acceleration programs at two Achieving the Dream colleges: Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas.

Faculty at Broward developed a model called “Math Redesign” that compresses the traditional sixteen-week developmental math courses into eight weeks, so that students can complete two levels of developmental math in a single semester. The model also includes collaborative problem-solving during class and computer-assisted instruction outside of class. At Tarrant County, faculty divided each developmental math course into three modules, in a program called “ModMath.” Through a more fine-grained placement process, students may be able to skip content that they have already mastered. During class, students work at their own pace on computers using an instructional software package, while the instructor works with students individually. The self-paced nature of ModMath potentially allows students to complete more than three modules per semester.

Key Findings

  • Both colleges have succeeded in implementing their programs as originally envisioned, strengthening them, overcoming challenges along the way, and scaling them up to serve more students each year of operation.
  • Faculty leaders, motivated by engaged administrators and data-driven decision-making, helped the colleges grow their programs and fold them into broader student success agendas.
  • Student outcomes data collected and analyzed by the colleges suggest promising trends associated with the programs, including higher success rates and lower withdrawal rates than for students in traditional math courses at the colleges.

MDRC hopes to obtain funding to conduct an evaluation of Math Redesign and ModMath in order to build knowledge for the field about the implementation and impacts of these acceleration approaches.

Document Details

Publication Type
May 2013
Fong, Kelley and Mary Visher. 2013. Fast Forward. New York: MDRC.