Funded by the National Science Foundation

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 workshops.