part-time faculty teach an estimated 45 percent of all mathematics twoyear college sections.

Sally Johnson from the College of Southern Nevada said that her school gave 10,000 placement tests in the fall of 2011, and it provided students with options in taking the test. Nevertheless, 60 percent of those 10,000 students ended up in the lowest levels of mathematics, which are the equivalent of fifth grade and ninth grade mathematics. As she phrased it, “That is the reality of what we have on the ground.” Furthermore, a student who starts in the fifth grade-level developmental mathematics class has approximately a 3 percent chance of ever taking a college-level mathematics class, she said.

Why are students enrolled in these classes when so many fail, asked Packard, commenting that “it is heartbreaking.” If money is going to be invested in running so many sections of developmental mathematics, faculty also need development and support.

Carl Wieman, associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, questioned the unusually high reliance on diagnostic tests and sorting in mathematics. In that respect, mathematics differs dramatically from other disciplines, which tend not to identify a lack of preparation as a deficiency. Biology, physics, and chemistry have courses for students who have not taken high-level classes in these subjects in high school. As an example of an alternative approach, George Boggs said that some colleges have been giving refresher courses before students take the assessment exam, and some of these students then do not have to go through a whole semester of developmental mathematics.

Jeannette Mowery from Madison Area Technical College, who was listening on the live webcast, e-mailed comments to the summit regarding developmental mathematics. She pointed out that, with few exceptions, mathematics is taught in isolation at all educational levels and not in context as a necessary tool to solve interesting and complex problems in a variety of industries and STEM application areas. All students would learn more mathematics if it were taught in context, she contended. She also pointed out that the level of mathematics needed for the majority of technical occupations is not higher mathematics such as trigonometry or calculus. Yet counselors and the standardized test system imply that students need to master mathematics at this high level to succeed in the sciences. “It is just not true, and it is a major barrier to students’ success in the STEM field,” she wrote.

Joan Sabourin from the American Chemical Society posed the challenge of decreasing the number of developmental mathematics and reading courses taught at two-year colleges by 5 percent each year through collaborations with K-12 institutions to increase the skills in mathematics and reading of 5 percent of K-12 students each year.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement