An inner city school with a diverse, multicultural clientele is deeply committed to raising students' mathematical abilities. The school has operated with grants that are now drying up, but that help authored some assessment studies over a ten-year period. They ask: does developmental mathematics help, or is it a hopeless cause?
Background and Purpose
The June 1997 issue of Network News  states:
Remediation at the postsecondary level has long been a controversial topic. Those in favor argue that post-secondary remediation provides a second chance for underprepared students, while those opposed maintain that it is duplicative and costly, and may not be effective.
Saint Peter's College has tried to address both aspects of this issue. As a medium-sized (about 3800 students) Catholic, Jesuit liberal arts college in an urban setting with a richly diverse student body, Saint Peter's has long applied resources to assist underprepared students in mathematics. The roots of the developmental mathematics courses go back to the Educational Opportunity Fund's Summer Mathematics Program in 1968. The department then initiated College Algebra (now MA 021, 3 credits, for the day session) in 1975, and added Introductory Algebra (now MA 001, no credit) in 1980. All students must fulfill a six-credit core mathematics requirement, consisting of a Calculus or Finite Mathematics sequence. (Students normally progress from MA 001 to the Finite Mathematics sequence or from MA 001 to MA 021 and then to the Calculus Sequence.) College advisors use placement test results and student past academic performance to assign students to appropriate developmental courses.
How well students are being "mainstreamed" from the developmental into regular college courses was the subject of three major studies. The first Mainstreaming Study was prompted by a request from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, our regional accrediting agency, for a follow-up report on developmental programs.
Over the course of years, we have conducted several investigations1:
I. The 1990 Mainstreaming Study completed in May, 1990, analyzed freshmen who entered in Fall 1984, by considering three entrance categories of students: (1) regular admits, (2) students in the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program a state supported program for selected students with income and academic disadvantage and (3) students in the College's Entering Student Support Program (ESSP), who were identified at admission as academically underprepared in one or more subjects. (ESSP began under a Title III grant in 1981.)
This study conducted by Dr. Thomas H. Donnelly had two components:
(1) retention/graduation data for students in these categories. Here we looked at entrance categories, racial/ethnic background, gender, verbal and mathematics SAT scores, high school quintile ranking, college GPA, status and credits earned by non-graduates, and consistency in entering and final major for graduates and non-graduates.
(2) student success in developmental mathematics courses and subsequent mainstream college courses. We studied enrollment and grades among developmental (ESSP and EOF) students and non-developmental students in selected developmental courses and subsequent core courses, and enrollment and grades for these groups in other core courses.
II. A 1992 study conducted by Brother James Dixon produced performance data on freshmen entering from Fall 1984 -1991. These data examined outcomes in a core mathematics sequence (Finite or Calculus) relative to whether or not a developmental course had preceded it.
III. A 1996 study conducted by Dr. Kathy Russavage replicated and expanded the earlier Mainstreaming Study, examining outcomes of freshmen (day session) who entered college from Fall 1990-1995. These data were considered in preparing the Five-Year Review of the Mathematics Department and the results continue to be used to shape our progress. In this study, the 1990 study was expanded to examine enrollment patterns in developmental and core courses, to identify repeaters of developmental courses, and to examine retention and graduation relative to various student characteristics.
Later studies echoed trends of the original 1990 study. The results in 1990 showed that students participating in EOF and ESSP developmental programs did move, in sizeable proportions, into mainstream courses and did persist to complete bachelor's degrees. Since 1990, the performance and persistence of ESSP students has declined somewhat, due to diminished services possible with available funding. In the 1997-1998 academic year, we have worked to restore some of the positive aspects of the ESSP program based on the results of our studies. As expected, developmental mathematics works less successfully for students in the Calculus sequence than in the Finite Mathematics sequence. Findings of the most recent, 1996, study which Dr. Russave identified are as follows:
|Developmental Course Grade||% Freshmen Completing Core|
|3.0 or 3.5||44%|
|2.0 or 2.5||36%|
|1.0 or 1.5||26%|
|No developmental course||60%|
|(* Withdrawal for Absence/Withdrawal/ Incomplete)|
Approximately 55% of entering freshmen completed the core mathematics requirement within two years of entrance.
Use of Findings
The Mathematics Department has long been attentive to the need to continually evaluate its program outcomes, and results such as these have helped us pinpoint our weaknesses and address them. We have introduced, over time, computer supported learning modules, personalized instruction, and greater use of graphing calculators in developmental work. The CALL program (Center for Advancement of Language and Learning) also provides student tutors free of charge. Furthermore, several core mathematics sections are taught by the "Writing to Learn" method, whereby students maintain journals and enhance problem-solving skills through writing and frequent communication with the instructor. Faculty members undergo intensive training to become part of the "Writing to Learn" faculty. Saint Peter's has also used the results of these studies in its Institute for the Advancement of Urban Education, which reaches out to promising high school juniors and seniors in need of mathematics and other remediations by offering special after school and Saturday programs.
A concerted effort is currently underway to study the factors contributing to the repetition of developmental courses. We are considering running special sections for repeaters. Whether or not learning disabilities play a role also needs to be explored. The most important feature of these studies is our goal to identify "at risk" students early so we may impress on them the need for regular attendance, good study habits, and persistence. To this end, a three-week Summer Academy was created for August, 1997, seeking to replicate within limited internal resources, some of the features of the EOF program. Open to any incoming freshman (except EOF students, who have their own six-week program), the Academy focuses on a successful transition to college, emphasizes academic and life skills, effective communication, and expectations for achieving success in college.
Saint Peter's College is aware of the fact that every walk of life requires mathematics literacy. But to help developmental students understand its importance is no mean feat. Student anxieties and frustration need to be replaced by confidence and persistence. Students need to cultivate good study habits and understand the importance of regular attendance. To this end, personal attention and support of students is important. Peer tutoring, cooperative learning, and encouragement from faculty and family, where possible, are ingredients in a successful developmental program.
Overall, we are encouraged by our assessment data, to say that our developmental program has succeeded in assisting many under-prepared and overanxious students to achieve satisfactory performance in developmental courses and related core courses, and ultimately reach their career goals. However, in the Saint Peter's tradition, we are continuing to examine the data to find areas for improvement.
 National Center for Education Statistics (Project of the State Higher Education Executive Officers). Network News, Bulletin of the SHEEO/NCES Communication Network, 16 (2), June 1997.
1 To produce these reports, we have had the able assistance of Institutional Research Directors Thomas H. Donnelly, Brother
James Dixon, Kathy A. Russavage; Developmental Mathematics Director and current department chair, Gerard P. Protomastro,
former Mathematics chair, Larry E. Thomas, and Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Urban Education, David S. Surrey, as well
as the entire mathematics department.