Changing the Equation: Redesigning Developmental Math

Mountwest Community and Technical College

Redesign Coordinator: Michael McComas

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 8/1/12)

Project Abstract

In the past, Mountwest Community and Technical College (MCTC) offered a three-course developmental mathematics sequence: Basic Mathematics, Introductory Algebra and Intermediate Algebra. About 350 students were enrolled in 18 sections of developmental math in the fall, 250 students in 14 sections in the spring, and 100 students in five sections in the summer. During the pilot semester of the redesign, MCTC converted the three-semester course sequence into two courses, Basic Math and Algebra I. For the full implementation in fall 2011, these two courses were combined into one redesigned course, Algebra I.

The developmental math program had been identified as the gatekeeper that prevented students from completing their degree programs in a timely manner. The traditional developmental math program was not meeting the needs of students or the goals of the Govenor and the West Virginia State Legislature. Many students had to take some of these courses three or more times just to get to a college-level math course.  This was very costly for both students and MCTC.

The redesign used the Emporium Model: students met in a computer lab three hours a week with their instructor and one hour a week in small groups. Attendance was mandatory and accounted for 10% of their grade.  Students completed all homework, quizzes and exams on the computer. The course material was broken down into smaller chunks, and students had multiple opportunities to show mastery of the material with constant feedback on their work. Students also had additional support through MCTC’s Academic Skills Center, which was open 63 hours a week to provide “just-in-time” instructional support.

In the Emporium Model, students no longer sat passively through hours of lecture each week but rather were actively engaged and encouraged to work at a pace that best fit their needs and goals.  Pearson’s MyMathLab provided students video instruction, PowerPoint presentations, interactive worksheets and immediate feedback on their work. The Instructor was able to spend the vast majority of the time working with students one-on-one or within small groups.  Students were encouraged to work anytime, anywhere, but were also required to attend class.  While the redesign provided multiple attempts for students to complete their work, they were also required to seek assistance between attempts at mastery.  Students were also given the opportunity to move directly into the college-level mathematics whenever they completed the developmental part of their program.

During the pilot phase, MCTC offered parallel sections of the traditional and redesigned course and tested both groups with the same gateway exams at the end of modules. Faculty assessed student learning on each of the specific questions based on specific learning outcomes. Analysis and comparisons of results between the traditional and redesign groups and within the groups were conducted. Success on exams was at an 80% mastery level. Additionally, both groups were given the same final exam for the course.

MCTC produced costs savings through increased productivity; the teaching load of full- time faculty was increased from 10 sections of 18 students per year to 15 sections of 20 students annually. In addition, MCTC stopped hiring adjuncts to teach developmental math, which saved the institution the cost of the adjunct salaries. The result of these changes was a decrease in the cost-per-student from $431 in the traditional format to $351 in the redesign, a 19% reduction. MCTC will use the savings to increase the technology available to students and to aid in the redesign of all college-level math courses.

Final Report (as of 8/1/12)

Impact on Students

In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?

Improved Learning

Students in the redesigned courses significantly outperformed those in the traditional format. To measure student learning outcomes, performance on common examination questions was compared in the traditional and redesigned formats. The percentages below are the percentage of questions answered correctly for each group. 


Basic Math

Algebra I

Fall 2010 Traditional



Fall 2011 Redesign



Spring 2012 Redesign



Course-by-Course Completion Rates

In order to compare individual course completion rates, one needs to look at the percentage of students who complete the same amount of material in the same period of time. In the redesign of their developmental math sequence, MCTC collapsed two courses, Basic Math and Algebra I, into one, modularized course. Students enrolled in the new course could be beginning students or students continuing from a prior semester. Consequently, it was not possible to calculate comparative course completion rates for this project.

Overall Completion Rates

To compare overall completion rates, the MCTC team looked at two-semester completion rates for cohorts from the past two academic years. The redesign showed a significant 58.8% increase in two-semester successful completion. In AY 2011-2012, the redesigned course had a 38% successful two-semester completion rate (grade of C or better) whereas the rate during AY 2010-2011 before the redesign was 24%.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

Institutional Savings

MCTC reduced costs by increasing the teaching load of full-time faculty from 10 sections of 18 students per year to 15 sections of 20 students annually. This increase in the number of sections was possible because the instructional software used in the courses provided immediate feedback to students on their homework as well as their quizzes. Faculty no longer needed to grade these assignments and could work directly with students who needed their help. MCTC stopped hiring adjuncts to teach developmental math, which, in addition to saving the institution the cost of the adjunct salaries, reduced the time needed to recruit, hire and train adjuncts. A small reduction in enrollment at MCTC (31 students) also meant that the institution reduced the number of sections planned, to keep the section size at 20 students. The result of these changes was a decrease in the cost-per-student from $431 in the traditional format to $351 in the redesign, a 19% reduction.

Student Savings

There are two ways that students were able to decrease their costs by taking the redesigned course.  First, students only had to purchase one software access code instead of two, and the access code was good for a calendar year. Second, successful students paid for one developmental course instead of two.  Students that did not complete the redesigned course but continuously worked at it and successfully completed 75% of the material could take an Incomplete and finish the course the next semester without having to pay tuition for the course again. Others who did not meet this standard had to register and pay for the course again but were allowed to start where they left off in the previous semester. 


Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?

Sustainability is a non-issue considering that student learning has increased as has cost savings to both the college and the students. There has been a significant increase in two-semester cohorts in completing the developmental requirement. Data analysis has showed the team that there are two key spots in the course where students are stumbling--at the start and around module 5--that will be addressed to further increase student success.


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