Changing the Equation: Redesigning Developmental Math

Nashville State Community College

Redesign Coordinator: Jennifer Knapp

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 3/1/12)

Project Abstract

Nashville State Community College (NSCC) redesigned its developmental math sequence: Basic Math, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra. In AY 2009-2010, the combined enrollment was 4,362 students in 198 sections. Intermediate Algebra had 1,885 students in 89 sections; Elementary Algebra had 1,798 students in 77 sections; and Basic Math had 679 students in 32 sections.

The high failure rate in developmental math often prevented students from beginning college math courses and delayed progress towards graduation. Historically, only 14% of students that began the developmental math program at the Basic Math level continued to college-level math. Intermediate Algebra, the final course required before a student could enter college-level math, had a success rate of 45% for AY 2009-2010. The large enrollment and high failure rates made it imperative for NSCC to increase student success rates by offering a more focused, meaningful curriculum, diminishing the potential for course drift and providing a better opportunity for success.

Math faculty modeled the NSCC redesign on SMART Math at Jackson State Community College. Developmental math content was evaluated and adjusted to include only those skills needed for success in college math or in a particular career rather than to remediate what was not learned in high school. The curriculum was divided into five modules (competencies); students progressed through the modules as they demonstrated mastery of the topics. Students were required to attend class every week in a newly-created Math Learning Lab staffed with instructors and tutors. Pearson’s MyLabsPlus--which includes videos, interactive tutorials, helpful hints, and online exams--provided immediate feedback and individualized instruction to students. Instructors and tutors were available for individual assistance or small-group discussions. Homework, critical thinking activities and exams were standardized for each module to diminish course drift and the variability in quantity and quality of instructor feedback and course content.

Quality was enhanced by the flexibility and individualization of the new curriculum. Integrating these changes with NCAT course redesign principles created a modularized, technology-driven course that allowed students to focus on concepts relevant to their career goals, to have access to one-on-one assistance when needed and to potentially complete developmental math requirements in one semester. Academic goals for the redesign included increasing student success and retention in developmental math and better preparing students for success in college-level math.

The success of the redesign program was evaluated based on student achievement of course outcomes in the redesigned course, enrollee success and retention, and enrollee success and retention in entry-level college math courses. With full implementation, comparisons were made using baseline data from the traditional courses offered the preceding corresponding semester. Because there were no common final course exams in the redesigned format due to the curricular changes to the courses, common content items on final course exams and post-tests in the traditional and the redesigned courses determined outcome success.

Cost savings were generated by increasing section size from 25 to 30 on the main campus and from ~19 to an average of 22 at the satellite campuses and changing the ratio of full-time and part-time personnel teaching the course. The cost-per-student decreased from $165 to $139, a 16% reduction. Savings will go to the college’s general fund and be available to redesign additional college-level math sections.

Final Report (as of 3/1/12)

Impact on Students

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

Improved Learning

Due to the change in course content and the move from a traditional course to a modularized course, the best comparison for learning outcomes success was to correlate final exam questions from the traditional Basic Math, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra courses with the new competencies associated with the redesigned course. In the redesigned course, each module fulfilled the requirements for a specific competency; therefore, the assessment scores for each module’s post-test provided evidence of student achievement for the associated competency.

Student scores from fall 2010 traditional sections were compared to student scores in redesign sections from fall 2011. Students in redesigned sections scored significantly higher overall in achieving course competencies when compared to students in traditional sections.

The competencies and the percent increase in scores from the traditional to redesign course were as follows:

  • Real numbers and Operations increased from 67% to 84%, a 25% increase.
  • Algebraic Expressions increased from 53% to 81%, a 53% increase.
  • Linear Functions and Graphs increased from 47% to 81%, a 72% increase.
  • Linear Equations/Inequalities increased from 53% to 87%, a 64% increase.

(The fifth competency, Modeling and Critical Thinking, was unique to the redesigned course and did not have an equivalent in the traditional course.)

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, NSCC eliminated Basic Math, collapsed what had been elements of Basic Math, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra into one, modularized course called Learning Support Math and changed the ACT placement scores for Elementary Algebra (traditional sub-score 14 – 16; redesign sub-score 13 – 18). Students enrolled in Learning Support Math 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.

Other Impacts on Students

  • Student success in college-level courses was also measured. Students taking college-level courses in fall 2011 were tracked based on whether they had completed traditional versus redesigned developmental courses. Student success was analyzed in three fall 2011 college-level courses: Math for Liberal Arts, Probability/Statistics and Finite Mathematics. Student success of those from redesign courses compared with those from traditional varied:

    • Redesign students performed better in Math for Liberal Arts with a success rate of 100% versus 59% for traditional students.
    • Redesign students performed slightly lower in Probability/Statistics with a success rate of 67% enrollee versus 75% for traditional students.
    • Finite Mathematics performance was similar in that redesign students had a 57% success rate compared with 59% for traditional students.

NSCC will continue to monitor success in college-level courses as more students entering these classes will have taken developmental studies based upon the newer required cut scores for placement.

  • Based on student comments from course evaluation forms, there was initial hesitancy regarding the redesigned course, but this changed during the semester. Students realized they had to do the work and gave the course an overall favorable rating. Additional questions were added to the evaluation which provided an opportunity for students to provide input regarding their perspective. On a five-point scale, students enjoyed the computer lab setting (4.1), believed they were better at math at the end of the course (4.2), felt prepared for college-level math (4.0), liked the immediate feedback on homework and tests (4.4), and felt the critical-thinking activities helped to tie the material together (3.9).

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

Institutional Savings

NSCC’s cost reduction plan was carried out. In compliance with new Tennessee Board of Regents guidelines, NSCC replaced three traditional developmental courses with one modularized, redesigned course called Learning Support Math. This action plus changes in ACT placement cut scores meant that fewer students were required to enroll in developmental math, which led to fewer sections needing to be scheduled. Thus, the redesign plan anticipated a decrease in developmental math enrollment to 2,930.

The main campus enrolls about 74% of the developmental math students. The redesign plan increased section size on the main campus from 25 to 30 students.  The number of sections decreased from 133 to 73 annually, partially as a result of increased section size and partially because fewer developmental math students were enrolled.

In the traditional format, the allocation of sections between full-time and part-time faculty on the main campus was about even, with 65 sections taught by full-time faculty and 68 sections taught by part-time faculty. In the redesign, the plan was to limit the full-time percentage to 30%. That plan was carried out.

There was, however, an increase in coordination costs. The original plan anticipated a 20% teaching position time allocation for coordination; the actual redesign included an 80% allocation. NSCC used release time for the lab manager and course coordination versus hiring full-time personnel. This provided the flexibility to increase or decrease release time based on lab needs and to retain an instructor to assist in teaching developmental or college-level classes.

NSCC also has four satellite campuses which enroll ~26% of the developmental math students and involve greater percentages of adjuncts teaching sections. At these locations, the section size increased on average from 19 to 22 students, ranging from 18 to 29 depending upon the size of the lab at the location.

The weighted average of the redesigned section size is 28 across all locations of NSCC. Collectively, the changes resulted in a 16% cost reduction with the cost-per-student declining from $165 in the traditional course to $139 in the redesign. All savings will go to the college’s general fund and be available for future additional college-level math sections.

Student Savings

Costs to students decreased since students were able to complete all developmental requirements in one semester versus multiple semesters. Also, because students were charged according to variable credit hours, students who made progress but required an additional semester could enroll in and pay for fewer credit hours than the traditional three credit hours.

Course material costs for students also decreased because the computer access code was less expensive than the textbook.  Students that opted to purchase only the code had access to an electronic textbook, removing the need to purchase a hardcopy.

Finally, students no longer needed to drop the course when work or family obligations prohibited them from attending class. Students were able to change course sections and attend class at a different time instead of withdrawing, thus decreasing the number of semesters needed to complete developmental math requirements.


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

There is little doubt that the changes to the developmental math program will be sustained and most likely will extend into other college-level math courses. The program has been changing for the past three years with the full support of the college in an effort to better address the needs of students. The improved retention and success rates indicate that the changes are having a positive impact, and NSCC expects these trends to continue as the team modifies course content and delivery. Additionally, instructors who were initially hesitant about the program now fully support the changes, and some have begun to take an active role in the decision-making processes related to running the program.


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