Math pathways guide students through required courses
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Math is a confusing subject for most students, especially when one isn’t sure which classes to take. The question that colleges are faced with today is how much remedial algebra students should be required to take before entering major-specific math courses.
In response to that question, Lake Land College has introduced the math pathways sequences, which is meant to help students get into the right classes as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
“It came from the math instructors talking about the century-old question: If you didn’t need algebra for your major, why are you spending a lot of time learning high school algebra?” Math and Science Division Chair Ike Nwosu said. “That has become a national conversation.”
In the past, students with lower placement test scores would have to take two remedial algebra courses, MAT 005 and 006, even if the required courses for their majors aren’t algebra-based. Nwosu said one of the flaws in this system is the use of placement tests.
“You’re on your way to Lake Land to take a placement test, and you get a flat tire,” Nwosu said. “You end up at the placement testing center late. You still take it, but you are flummoxed. You’re probably going to score lower. Is your placement score an accurate indication of your math ability?”
While placement tests do show ability, Nwosu said they aren’t the best indicator. Another problem is that students must use extra college time and resources to complete courses at a high school level.
“They should’ve learned it, but they didn’t. And now they’re using college credit, college financial aid, to learn something that should have been mastered in high school,” Nwosu said.
Nwosu said that these issues spurred the math department to make a change.
“Put all that together, the math instructors decided to plot out different pathways,” Nwosu said. “It helps students understand from the moment they get their placement results how much math and what math classes they need to take, at the beginning.”
These pathways lay out all the math classes students need to take, which is especially beneficial to those who test lower and will need to take more semesters of math.
“If they’re behind in their math placement, they can’t wait for their last year to start taking math classes,” Nwosu said. “They might never get to the math class they need for their major. Why? Because MAT 005 and 006 don’t count toward your degree.”
Not only do the pathways help students see the road ahead, but there are options to help put students on a fast track to where they need to be. For example, pre-nursing students must take statistics, or Math 125. Before, if they tested lower, they’d have to take MAT 005 and 006.
“But, MAT 005 and 006 are algebra. Stats is not algebra,” Nwosu said. “So now, you can take MAT 008, which prepares you for Stats.  is six credits, is all in one semester, and it is not algebra.”
This saves students from an additional semester of math, and all the time and money that come with those credit hours.
“We’re saving you time, we’re saving you money, we’re saving you financial aid. This is counting against your financial aid, but does not count toward your college credits,” Nwosu said. “You’d rather spend seven hours of your financial aid on a college level course.”
Another option for students who test below the mark for their required college level math class are the co-requisites math classes.
“You want to get into the gen. ed. math or Stats based on your major. You don’t need algebra. You don’t want to take a six-credit prerequisite class. But, you’ve tested somewhere close to this level. So, you take these co-reqs,” Nwosu said. “These allow you to go straight into MAT 116 or 125 without waiting one or two semesters before you can take them. This is a slingshot.”
Nwosu said this program is meant for those who tested poorly, but have the ability to perform well in their college level math classes.
“We’re assuming that you tested poorly because you had a bad tire day, but your abilities will allow you to take this class successfully if we give it to you, at the same time with a supplemental instruction class.” Nwosu said.
The school is piloting the co-requisites during the 2017-2018 school year, and hopes to have test score cutoffs finalized for Fall 2018.
“In Fall 2018, we hope to be using test scores. Right now, we are recruiting students directly,” Nwosu said. “It’s working. 80% of our students who are using the co-reqs are passing the college level math class in a single semester, without ever having taken MAT 005 beginning or MAT 006 intermediate algebra.”
The math department developed four pathways, so as long as students know their major, they know which pathway to take. Their test scores will determine the starting point.
“It becomes crystal clear, which it is not in the catalogue,” Nwosu said. “When you look at the catalogue, you don’t see the pathway for math. You just see math classes. This shows you what you must pass first, and where your test scores place you in the sequence.”
The STEM majors have the longest pathway, so it’s especially important for them to understand their pathway.
“If you don’t understand your pathway in time, and you tested into MAT 006 and you need to go up to linear algebra, that’s four semesters, and you didn’t start taking intermediate algebra in your first semester, you’re late,” Nwosu said.
The pathways are also beneficial for those who switch majors.
“If you are in pathway one, and you change to one of the other three pathways, you may have to take MAT 005 and or 006, depending on your math placement score. Wherever your test score is, you have to start taking those classes as soon as possible,” Nwosu said.
The pathways are accessible online now so students can start planning their math pathway.