Tennessee Board of Regents: Developmental Studies Redesign Initiative

Austin Peay State University

Course Title: Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra
Redesign Coordinator: Martin Golson

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Project Abstract

Austin Peay State University (APSU) plans to redesign two developmental math courses, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra. At least 900 students each year are placed in these two courses based on admissions test scores (ACT, SAT or Compass) in mathematics.

These developmental courses face two academic problems. University retention data show that approximately one-half of the students either fail or withdraw, and many of these students withdraw from the university before completing a baccalaureate degree. A second problem is that the links between the developmental courses and APSU’s core college-level core mathematics courses, Fundamentals of Math and Elements of Statistics, are weak.

The redesign model selected by APSU is based on the Structured Learning Assistance (SLA) model developed by Ferris State University in Michigan. APSU plans to eliminate the developmental courses, which carry no university credit. Enhanced sections of the two core college-level courses, Fundamentals of Math and Elements of Statistics, will be created for students whose admissions test scores place them in developmental mathematics. These core courses will not change in content but will be linked to SLA workshops. Students requiring developmental instruction will enroll in the core course required for their major and receive supplemental academic support on a just-in-time basis to remove the deficiencies in mathematical competencies required for success in the core course. These workshops will consist of computer-based instruction (MyMathLab), small-group activities and test reviews to provide additional instruction on key mathematical concepts within the courses. The statistics workshops will also use Fathom and Minitab in addition to MyMathLab. SLA workshops will be facilitated by students who have excelled in math and have been recommended by math faculty.

During the initial meeting of the workshop, students will be assessed to determine their specific math deficiencies. The math faculty have collectively determined the prerequisite competencies that are required in order for students to successfully complete each of the two core math courses involved in the course redesign. Only the deficiencies which are deemed necessary for success in the core mathematics course will be addressed during the workshops. Students will be individually assigned modules within MyMathLab based on the results of the assessment. Students will complete the modules on a just-in-time basis so that they are prepared to use the associated mathematics skills as the core course requires. In addition, the workshop leader will review the more difficult concepts that were covered during class instruction. Just-in-time instruction on prerequisite competencies is designed so that students will use the concepts during the following class session, which in turn will help them see the value of the workshops and motivate them to do the exercises.

The redesigned courses will encourage active learning. They will enhance each student's learning experience by removing deficiencies in mathematical competencies required for success in the core courses. Students will receive prompt feedback on all of the learning activities as well as individualized support. Consistency across all sections will be provided through standardization of small group activities and instruction. APSU expects the redesigned courses to increase the student success rates in mathematics, increase student retention at the university and decrease the amount of time required to complete the baccalaureate degree.

Student learning will be assessed by comparing baseline data with data from redesigned sections in both the pilot and full implementation phases. Comparison data will include: the percentage of students completing developmental requirements as well as the core mathematics requirements; student retention rates; mean and standard deviation of final grades in core mathematics courses; student performance on common content items on final exams; pre- and post-test results on prerequisite competencies; and the correlation between workshop attendance and course grade.

The redesigned courses will decrease instructional costs from $402,804 to $193,556, a 52% reduction. These savings will be achieved by eliminating the Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra courses, reducing the number of developmental sections from 52 to 0. Thirteen enhanced sections of Fundamentals of Math and 21 enhanced sections of Elements of Statistics will replace the developmental sections. The cost of the redesigned courses includes only half of the 34 enhanced sections (since half of these sections would have been offered in the traditional format for the 50% of developmental students who previously enrolled in these two courses) plus the cost of the SLA workshops for 17 of the 34 sections. In addition, 70 classrooms will become available each week when the supplemental workshops replace full sections. The savings will be used to expand the mathematics department, improve academic advising, and improve the collection of data about student retention initiatives.

Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Impact on Students

Prior to the redesign, students were required to complete one or more developmental courses before enrolling in a core mathematics course. The success rates for the developmental courses were 53% for Elementary Algebra and 51% for Intermediate Algebra.

Because Austin Peay’s redesign eliminated developmental math courses completely, the team did not have comparable data on student learning outcomes for the traditional and redesigned courses. Instead, they were able to compare how well developmental math students performed in two subsequent college-level courses both before and after the redesign. To do this, the team calculated a success rate for what percentage of the entire developmental math population was successful in the two core courses, taking into account that a significant portion of them never enrolled in a college -level math course.

This calculation showed that the percentage of students who succeeded (grade of D or better and completed the requirements for removing deficiencies in the SLA format) in the redesigned mathematics courses, enhanced Mathematical Thought and Practice or enhanced Elements of Statistics, was significantly higher than the success rates that occurred when students were required to complete developmental mathematics (Elementary Algebra and/or Intermediate Algebra) before enrolling in the college-level courses.







Mathematical Thought and Practice


Fall 2007

Spring 2008

Fall 2008

Spring 2009

# of students






Success rate












Elements of Statistics


Fall 2007

Spring 2008

Fall 2008

Spring 2009

# of students






Success rate






Prior to the redesign, 33% of developmental students who enrolled in Mathematical Thought and Practice successfully completed the course. After the redesign, that rate averaged 71%. Prior to the redesign, 23% of developmental students who enrolled in Elements of Statistics successfully completed the course. After the redesign, that rate averaged 54%.

Students were considered successful only if they removed mathematics deficiencies (determined by post-testing) and earned core course credit. Students who achieved a grade of A in the core course were considered to have removed their mathematics deficiencies without demonstrating deficiency removal on the post-test.

The success rate in Mathematical Thought and Practice of those students who completed the traditional Intermediate Algebra was 85% compared with the success rate of students who removed mathematics deficiencies by enrolling in enhanced Mathematical Thought and Practice, which averaged 71%. The success rate in Elements of Statistics of students who completed the traditional Intermediate Algebra was 56% compared with the success rate of students who removed mathematics deficiencies by enrolling in enhanced Elements of Statistics, which averaged 54%. However, as noted in fall-to-fall retention data shown below, almost half of the students who were required to enroll in developmental courses in the traditional format did not return the following fall. Thus, many students who were required to enroll in six hours of developmental courses or who were unsuccessful in the first attempt never attempted a core course.

Improved Retention

Prior to the redesign, the percentage of Elementary Algebra students who received a grade of D or higher was 53%. For Intermediate Algebra, it was 51%. After the redesign, the percentage of students in Mathematical Thought and Practice who received a grade of D or higher (thus successfully removing the mathematics deficiency by completing the core course) was 69%, In Elements of Statistics, it was 54%

The fall-to-fall student retention rate for students who enrolled in the developmental math courses under the traditional format never exceeded 59%; thus, 41% of those students (approximately 200 students) never attempted a core math course. During AY 2006-07, 57% of students who had been enrolled in a traditional developmental math course returned to the university the following fall. During AY 2007-08, 66% of developmental math students returned to the university the following fall after completing the enhanced mathematics courses.

Impact on Cost Savings

APSU saved approximately $209,248, a 52% reduction. The university realized the savings by:

  • Eliminating 52 developmental math sections each year, which previously cost $402,804 ($384,500 for the instructors and $18,304 for the tutors who supported the courses.)
  • Adding 32 enhanced sections of the two core courses, six of Mathematical Thought and Practice and 10 of Elements of Statistics. (The cost of the redesign includes only half of these enhanced sections since half of these sections would have been offered in the traditional format for the 50% of developmental students who previously enrolled in these two courses.) The cost of six enhanced MT&P sections and 10 enhanced Statistics sections was $121,956.
  • Adding 32 student-led SLA workshops required as a co-requisite with a core mathematics course, which cost $71,600.
  • The total cost of the redesign was $193,556.

The computer labs in which the SLA instruction took place were previously used for computer-based developmental courses. Thus, no additional expense was incurred.

In addition, reducing the number of sections offered saved classroom space. Estimates indicate that the university saved 70 classroom hours per week with the redesign.

Of equal importance is the cost savings to students. Students no longer spend one or two semesters (or more, if they needed to repeat the course, which many of them did) in non-university level courses that do not count toward a degree. Thus, students are saving both time and money with the redesign.

These savings enabled the mathematics department to add five Ph.D. level faculty positions and to eliminate temporary and adjunct positions. In addition, APSU added one position to its institutional research office, a supervisor of Structured Learning Assistance and three academic advisors in the schools of nursing, education and business.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

  • Structured Learning Assistance. Rather than requiring students with math deficiencies to enroll in developmental courses which did not count toward a degree, APSU’s redesign placed students in core mathematics courses needed to complete a baccalaureate degree and provided support to help them succeed in those courses. The support, Structured Learning Assistance ( SLA ,) was a co-requisite for the core course. Students were able to remove their deficiencies while completing the core mathematics course. The required participation in SLA permitted students to address the mathematics competencies in which they were deficient when it was covered in the core course meeting. SLA workshops were facilitated by students who had excelled in mathematics and had been recommended by mathematics faculty. Each SLA leader was assigned to one enhanced mathematics section and attended each class meeting with the students enrolled in the SLA workshop. During the workshop, the SLA leader reviewed the more difficult concepts as covered during class instruction. One hour each week was set aside for collaboration between the faculty member teaching the course and the SLA leader. During the pilot for Mathematical Thought and Practice, the professor realized that the SLA leader could also serve very effectively as a peer-tutor inside the classroom. Thus, the SLA leader began routinely moving between groups and providing assistance. Students felt very comfortable asking the SLA leader for help in the classroom as well as in the workshop. During training conducted prior to the beginning of each semester and during monthly in-service training, SLA leaders learned to use instructional material appropriately during their workshops.
  • Modularization. The APSU mathematics faculty determined the prerequisite competencies that were required in order for students to successfully complete each of the two core mathematics courses and developed a prerequisite competency test for each course. During the initial meeting of the workshop, students took an assessment to determine their proficiency in the prerequisite competencies. Students then received a printout indicating their scores in each competency group and were assigned modules in MyMathLab based on assessed needs. Students received individualized computer-based instruction on a “just-in-time” basis so that they were prepared to use the math skills required by the course topic. While each student was provided an individual list of modules to complete, all of the modules were available to every student so that they could review concepts if they felt the need for further assistance.
  • Using instructional software to promote active Learning. Instructional software, including MyMathLab, Minitab and Fathom, was used in the redesign to increase active participation by students. MyMathLab software is web-based and therefore is available to students from any computer with internet access. Students were excited about the opportunity to access MyMathLab from their home computers and to work on math at home as well as in the workshops. In addition, students often sought more opportunities to work on math by working in the lab beyond the required participation. Elements of Statistics workshops used Fathom, in addition to MyMathLab, to provide learning opportunities. Fathom software allows students to explore statistical concepts and use charts and graphs to visualize statistical information. In addition to using software to provide active-learning experiences, small-group activities in the SLA workshops allowed students to work with math concepts. Only a limited amount of time in each workshop was allowed for question and answer periods; the majority of the time was allocated for active engagement with mathematics.
  • Providing students with individualized assistance. The redesign used computer-based instruction coupled with peer support to provide students with individualized assistance in the classroom and in the workshop. During the workshops, students received immediate computer-based feedback on each exercise worked in MyMathLab. If the computer did not adequately answer their questions, the SLA leader was available to work with students. The SLA leader also provided feedback to the students during small-group activities. Some of these activities were designed to produce disequilibrium in the students as they struggled with a mathematical concept. The SLA leaders did not provide answers but rather provided prompts to guide students who became bogged down on an exercise.

Cost Savings Techniques

APSU eliminated 52 developmental math sections per year. Rather than requiring students to enroll in developmental courses which did not count toward a degree, the APSU redesign placed students in the core mathematics course required for their major with a co-requirement of Structured Learning Assistance (SLA) workshops. Students were able to remove their deficiencies while completing the core mathematics course. Successful removal of the deficiency required students to pass the core course in which they were enrolled as well as all the workshop requirements including a post-test.

Implementation Issues

  • Creating course-specific assessments. After mathematics faculty identified the competencies and requisite skills for core courses, an assessment had to be designed to identify the skills that each student lacked. This was more specific than the ACT score that placed them in developmental math courses.
  • Developing SLA workshop materials. Developing workshop materials was a critical implementation issue to be sure that students received appropriate instruction on course pre-requisite competencies on a just-in-time basis.
  • Building faculty consensus. Bringing all groups affected to the table to implement the redesign was an ongoing implementation issue.
  • Registration issues. Since students needed to enroll in an SLA workshop when they enrolled in the enhanced section of the core course, the registrar had to develop measures to direct students to the appropriate course sections, based on mathematics placement scores, and to properly record student performance within Banner.
  • Staffing issues. There are now an increased number of students who are able to enroll in college-level mathematics during any semester. Identifying qualified students to serve as SLA leaders at the rate of pay APSU could offer proved difficult. Competent mathematics students often have other more lucrative work opportunities.
  • Facilities. Computer labs were equipped in 2005 when the traditional developmental math courses attempted an initial redesign. When an older building was renovated, two classrooms were converted into high tech classrooms and assigned for use for SLA workshops. The equipment previously used in developmental math courses was moved to the newly renovated building.


The TBR Strategic Plan placed developmental studies in the community college; the closest TBR community colleges are in Nashville , more than 50 miles from Clarksville , where APSU is located. Retaining a way to address mathematics deficiencies at the university level provides higher education access for students who are time and place bound and most likely would not be able to attend the nearest community college. At this point, the university has no plans to change the way mathematics deficiencies are addressed.

Student success rates have improved as has the quality of instruction. The fall-to-fall retention rate of students with mathematics deficiencies is higher for students enrolling in enhanced core courses than it was for students who were required to enroll in developmental mathematics courses. Removing the requirement for non-university credit courses provided students the opportunity to enroll in a core mathematics course that is required for the baccalaureate degree and thus complete degree requirements in four years. Greater consistency has been achieved in multiple sections of courses as indicated by the use of common writing prompts in Mathematical Thought and Practice and common activities in Elements of Statistics. Common questions embedded in exams for both the enhanced and regular sections of the two core courses suggest that the same rigor is being maintained in both formats. Anecdotal comments from students suggest that the support they receive from SLA workshops has made a difference and enabled a higher level of success. Instructional considerations that must be addressed in the future have been identified.

In response to the redesign successes, the university applied for and received a $2 million Title III Grant, which will provide funding over the next five years to support course redesign. The focus of the redesign effort is on core courses which have D-F-W rates of 30 percent or more. Workshops on course redesign were provided for all faculty by Dr. Tristan Denley , Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and an NCAT scholar. Following the workshops, 11 faculty members submitted proposals to redesign courses. Five were accepted and will be piloted during the 2009-10 academic year. These courses include Elements of Statistics, Fundamentals of Public Speaking, General Chemistry, Human Anatomy and Physiology and Wellness Concepts and Practices. These redesigns are expected to achieve similar results as the math redesign: improved student learning and cost savings that will permit a redirection of funds to other academic initiatives.



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