Laney College

Critical Issues in Developmental Math Conference

Critical Issues in Developmental Math Conference


This was the 3 day conference at MSRI.  It took place from 3/18-3/20; I attended the last two days.  There were MANY speakers at this conference, all targeting different aspects of developmental math teaching.  I am going to try to share as much as I can, in a short way.

Redesigning the Basic Math Sequence: I think we have all heard about the Pre-statistics idea (Statway, Quantway, Statpath, etc.), but there were some folks who spoke about other ways in which they redesigned their basic math sequence – in particular, modular and self-paced.  This was mentioned a few times from both universities and community colleges.  One person spoke in depth about his experiences at Cleveland State Community College (John Squires) and he said that they made the courses with some lecture, but mostly the students work during most of the meeting times.  He said that they were studied by at least 3 different groups because of their great success.  He also mentioned that rates increased across the board and they closed achievement gaps in most ways (race, gender, etc).  I found one of the studies and if you are interested, you can find it here.

Another speaker later talked about how his college also made their developmental math sequence modular and selfpaced.  He said that they created 9 moduals: Whole Numbers, Fractions/Decimals, Ratio/Percents, Linear Equations, 2-variable equations, Factoring equations, Rational Equations, Radicals, and Quadratic Equations.  They would first see what the student’s goal(s) was(were) and then decide how much of the developmental math they needed to take.  The student would then take a test to see which moduals they would have to take.

Boot Camp:  Wade Ellis spoke about a boot camp that he created and had much success with.  He did not have enough handouts for me to get one, but he said he would send me one.  When he does, I’ll put it here.  The goal of his boot camp is to take students from memorizing and bring them to understand math.  He said a few times, in a few ways: Don’t do for students what they can do for themselves.

High School Teachers: There were a handful of HS math teachers from NY who came to talk about their students and what they do with their students in class.  This part was really amazing – they had really compelling stories and left me thinking about how much the transition to CC is so difficult for HS students.  They try to implement “just in time remediation”, they mix higher math with lower math (so that if a student didn’t get it the first time, they see it again) and they explained work that they assign their students that targeted “productive struggle”.  They said that they were, “filling in pot holes while building new roads” – keeping remedial students challenged with new and difficult problems, while remediating when needed.

Assessment: The HS teachers from NY say that approximately 97% of their students PASS the HS standardized test, but less than 50% place into college level courses when they leave HS.  One instructor who teacher calculus showed two students and their work – they very similar, both excellent work, solid explanations, both got A’s.  One went to a private college that had no placement test, where she was placed in calculus and got a 92% in the course.   The other student went to CUNY, took the placement test (the same one we use! Compass!) and was told his math skills were too low for him to go to college; he started work in developmental math at a local CC.  This is strong evidence that our placement tests are too punitive to students and further supports the use of multiple measures.

Performance Based Funding:  This term was said numerous times as something that is possibly looming in our future.  This would mean that funding would be based on the number of degrees and certificates awarded.


Some of the following were introduced (some MANY times) during the conference.  They might be worth looking into:

TODOS: Mathematics For All

Mindsets (Growth and Fixed Mindsets)

Brain Malleability

Who Get’s To Graduate

Reading Slowly

Dear Colleague Letter from NSF – You can make a proposal to improve math learning for ANY of our Community College courses.  This targets any math courses that a student can take in the first 2 years of her college experience.  Their goal: increase opportunity, access and retention.  Your proposal should target those. The representative (Lee Zia) from the NSF made a haiku too:

begin at the end

to improve education

put the learner first