Higher Education

For remedial community college students, algebra or statistics?

Pass rates are very low for community college students placed in remedial math, typically a review of elementary algebra. Students are more likely to pass college-level, for-credit statistics than remedial algebra, concludes a City University of New York study.

At Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), Hostos Community College (HCC), and LaGuardia Community College (LCC), most students place into remedial math.

Complete College America

Experimenters randomly divided students into three groups. One third took a traditional remedial algebra class, the second third took the traditional class with a two-hour weekly workshop to provide extra support and the rest took college-level, for-credit statistics plus a workshop.

In the workshops, students “reviewed and discussed what they had learned so far, including the specific topics that they were finding difficult.”

Fifty-six percent of students passed college statistics, significantly higher than the 45 percent pass rate for remedial algebra plus the workshop and 39 percent for remedial algebra without extra support.

Not surprisingly, students with higher placement scores and high school grades were the most likely to pass statistics. Early registrants also did well.

For students who don’t need college algebra for their majors, statistics may be more useful, researchers concluded.

Several community colleges around the country are experimenting with teaching statistics rather than algebra to students in non-STEM tracks, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Statistics is a “much more functional and pragmatic mathematics training” for most students, said Nikki Edgecombe is a senior research associate with the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia’s Teachers College.

CUNY will follow students in the study to see if those who took statistics do as well in the long run as classmates who took algebra.

Two CCRC studies in 2012 found many students who placed into remediation could succeed in college-level courses.

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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs, formerly of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, is a freelance journalist who blogs at joannejacobs.com. See Archive

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