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Bringing remedial math courses to high schools

 Olney Central College math instructor Harold Neeley with students in the summer bridge program Schyler Morgan (left) and Clarissa Kocher.

A new pilot program in Illinois is providing remedial math courses to high school students so they they won’t have to take developmental education in college. The goal is to help students be more successful in college and more likely to complete.

Currently, about half of the community college students in Illinois need to take at least one developmental course, said Jason Taylor, a research associate at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana.

The idea behind the Illinois STEM College and Career Readiness program (STEM CCR) is to identify high school students who might be placed in development education and provide remedial instruction and support services to them. 

Summer bridge programs have long been a staple of college preparation efforts, but “this is unique in the sense that the colleges are working closely with the high schools and delivering college syllabus on the high school campus,” Taylor said. 

The program also encourages high school and college teachers to collaborate on aligning their curricula.

While the program is targeted to students interested in careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), it is not a prerequisite.

College/high school collaboration

The Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) teamed with the Illinois State Board of Education to tap a three-year, $986,000 federal Race to the Top grant to fund the initiative, said Brian Durham, senior director for academic affairs and career and technical education. Race to the Top is the Obama administration’s chief K-12 education reform initiative.

Seven community colleges have been selected to participate: Heartland Community College, Illinois Central College, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, John Wood Community College and three in the Chicago system.

Five of the seven STEM CCR colleges ran summer bridge programs that enrolled about 70 students from around 30 high schools. A summer bridge program is important to give students that “extra bump to get them ready for college,” Durham said.

Developmental education is one of the focus areas of AACC's 21st-Century Commission report.

The colleges are implementing the STEM CCR program this fall for rising juniors and seniors at their partner high schools. “We would like to see the colleges develop a series, not just a one-shot intervention,” Durham said.

The Illinois STEM CCR program grew from a similar pilot program with seven different community colleges that began in 2007 and ended last year when state funding was cut, Taylor said. That program was broader, addressing English developmental courses as well as math, and was more limited in terms of focusing only on instruction. 

While “there were challenges with the data collection system,” about half the students in all seven pilot sites made significant gains in math or English, Taylor said. Moving forward, the new program has a stronger data-gathering and evaluation system so researchers will track whether participating students enroll in college and how well they do.

Not quite college ready

The colleges recruited students who were considered “just below college ready in math,” Taylor said. Students were given the Compass college placement test to determine where they stood.

Illinois Eastern Community Colleges (IECC) conducted an intervention program this summer for students who had just graduated from East Richland High School and were possibly interested in STEM careers or undecided and needed extra help with math.

“We offered them a way to get a remedial math class out of the way in a short time period at no cost to the student,” said Jervaise McDaniel, director of the project and associate dean for adult and continuing education for IECC. The president of the college waived students’ tuition and fees, and the grant funds covered their books.

Five students were assigned to a beginning algebra course and eight took intermediate algebra. McDaniel said it was difficult to get students back in class after they had just graduated, but she made sure their parents knew about the opportunity and got them to buy in. It was also a challenge because many of the students had to juggle the class with job schedules.

The classes were held at Olney Central College, one of the colleges in the IECC system, for about three hours each morning for a month. College staff provided information about STEM careers, financial aid and college enrollment. And just being at Olney was a benefit, McDaniel said, as the students became familiar with the campus.

All 13 students passed and are ready to move up to the next math level. Ten of them are currently enrolled in a math class at Olney.

“Most of these students probably wouldn’t have gone to college, or if they had, might have dropped out if they had to take developmental math,” McDaniel said.

This fall, 16 students are taking immediate algebra course at East Richland High School. During the spring semester, two beginning algebra courses will be offered, with about 15 students in each class. Next summer, there will be another bridge program.

IECC decided to offer intermediate algebra in the fall so the students who complete it will be eligible to take a dual-credit math course in the spring or take a math course at the community college in the evening or during the summer, she said. The courses will be taught by high school teachers using the community college syllabus. 

“We hope by teaching the community college remedial courses, the high school teachers will begin collaborating with the college faculty and start working on improving the curriculum alignment,” McDaniel said.

She also hopes to bring in representatives from local manufacturing companies to talk about career prospects. 

“They need people with good math backgrounds. It could change the career direction of some students,” she said.

As the program matures, she would like to see the faculty get more creative in how they teach math, strengthen the partnership with the high school, figure out the best way to bring community college advisors to the high school, expand the initiative to other high schools, and negotiate data-sharing agreements with the schools.

Support services are critical

Harold Washington College (HWC) held a four-week summer intervention program for rising juniors and seniors from several public and private high schools. The class met Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at the college campus.

“We focused on low-need students, with the hope that they would be able to move into dual-credit programs,” said Rosie Banks, associate dean of instruction.

The course used a version of HWC’s math courses adapted for a shorter session, with computer-based instruction and a focus on problem solving, Banks said. The summer program also included career planning and job preparation skills, such as resume building and mock interviews. Each student was paired with a college administrator who served as a mentor, advising them on college admissions, financial aid, and related issues.

The college is still working out the details for fall and spring interventions. Banks hopes the next class will start in October with about 20 students from four high schools. The course would most likely take place after school lets out in the afternoon at a centrally located high school. It would be taught by college faculty, who would collaborate with high school teachers on curriculum alignment and teaching methods.

Noting that the program is also a research project, Banks said a key component involves keeping track of student data to determine which remediation is most effective in preventing the need for developmental education.

What works best

After the earlier pilot project, “we learned we need to be more prescriptive in what we’re asking colleges to do,” Durham said. “We found we need to concentrate on students who are going to benefit from one course. Those with lots of needs probably won’t be helped by a summer bridge.”

Programs that have the most success have developed the broadest partnerships early and brought in as many high school students as possible, Durham said. Also, “curriculum alignment and faculty buy-in are absolutely essential.”

In addition to remediation, there must be a student services element, Durham said. 

“Colleges are very good at providing services, but we’re still figuring out how to get them to bring those services to the high school,” he said. “Getting colleges to connect all their resources in more active ways and getting students to engage are some of our big challenges.”