Pathways through Algebra is a faculty initiated project for student success in algebra.
The purpose is to identify, develop, and disseminate effective, replicable methods and
strategies to increase the success rate across diverse student populations, while increasing
understanding and mastery of the basic algebra skills.
At the beginning of the new millennium, a group of concerned community college math faculty
met to discuss the problems with teaching our students Beginning Algebra. From the initial
group, a team of ten formed the Pathways Taskforce that sought funding to investigate the
problem and seek solutions. Beginning Algebra was chosen as it is recognized as the ‘gatekeeper’
course. Failure to successfully complete this course results in an inability to obtain an
AA/AS degree, complete a certain certification programs or transfer to a 4- year institution.
With initial funding from the state chancellor’s office, the Taskforce obtained and analyzed
the MIS data for all the colleges in the state. The results indicated a 46% success rate across
the state. The most disturbing information was the fact that African American and Hispanic
students had significantly lower success rates compared to the white population. This
illustrated a huge equity issue as well.
Simultaneously, members of both the northern and southern sections of the California
Mathematics Council, Community Colleges were asked for input on the causes and possible
solutions to the problem as well as a definition of success. In addition, an informal survey
was sent to community colleges across the state asking them to identify programs and strategies
that they were implementing to increase success in beginning algebra.
The next phase of the project, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Lumina
Foundation, resulted in collaboration with the Center for Student Success (CSS) and the
Foundation for Community Colleges. Working with the research team from CSS, a protocol and
testing instrument was developed to evaluate the interventions.
NSF funded three pilot programs, (peer tutoring, computer assisted learning and math
specific study skills) together with an assessment program to determine success, a series of
workshops and a summer institute. Each college team that participated in one of the intensive
workshops left with a plan of action for their school. Follow-up activities have shown that
several have been able to successfully implement their plan.
Peg Hovde, at Grossmont College, together with the director of the mathematics tutor center
and the remedial math coordinator, developed a peer tutoring program specifically for the
Beginning Algebra students. This included specialized training for the tutors, specific hours
for developmental students, and an effort to encourage all beginning algebra students to visit
the tutor center during the semester.
Wade Ellis Jr., at West Valley College, adapted the Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces
(ALEKS) system to his traditional algebra courses. ALEKS is a diagnostic and tutorial software
which allows students to identify and then remediate those algebra topics that they are weak
in. Since ALEKS geared specifically to the individual student, each person is working at their
own pace and level. Students were required to spend one hour a week of class time and three
hours a week outside of class working on the system.
Terrie Teegarden, at San Diego Mesa College, using a variety of sources developed a math
specific study skills course. This included learning styles, math anxiety, test preparation,
note taking, reading the text, and organizational skills. These skills were integrated into
the beginning algebra course.
The Lumina Foundation funded 6 regional sites to help identify, validate and disseminate
good practices. The regional sites lead by a math faculty member working with a researcher
from the CSS, solicited best practices from the colleges in their regions. The regional sites
were San Diego, West LA, East LA, Santa Barbara area, South Bay and North Bay. Twelve colleges
participated in the research protocols and a total of eighteen colleges presented their
interventions at the January institute.
In the past three years, over half of the community colleges in California, two California
State Universities and the University of Washington have participated in a Pathways’ workshop.
In addition, every community college in the state has received information about the project
and invitations to participate through CMC³ and CMC³-S news letters and conference