There is a general consensus that a quality postsecondary education and credential are critical to success in today’s rapidly changing economy. However, a growing body of evidence has shown that entry-level mathematics courses required to progress toward a degree constitute a formidable barrier to completion of postsecondary credentials, especially for underrepresented minority, first-generation, and lower-income students. Key reasons for this include the disconnected nature of these course offerings and their misalignment with students’ academic and career aspirations, as well as limited use of evidence-based pedagogy. Math education reform advisory organizations, such as the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, Austin, have approached this problem by developing alternative pathways for students into college-level math and math-related coursework and introducing the relevance of quantitative concepts in a variety of academic disciplines and career education.

Building on this work, in 2017, Ithaka S+R partnered with Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Math (TPSE Math), the William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation at the University System of Maryland (USM), the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), Montgomery College (MC), the Urban Institute, and Acrobatiq to conduct a multi-year pilot study in Maryland that aimed to re-design the curricula for introductory statistics using adaptive learning technology and active learning pedagogy, create training materials and resources to support faculty teaching the course at multiple institutions, and assess the impact of this intervention on students’ course-level learning outcomes. In addition to UMCP and MC, the participating institutions were Anne Arundel Community College, Community College of Baltimore County, Frostburg State University, Harford Community College, Towson University, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Wor-Wic Community College.

Today, the final reports from this study have been released in two different, but complementary, forms: (1) an overall project report by Ithaka S+R that summarizes the implementation processes, reviews the key research findings, and discusses final thoughts and takeaways; and (2) a research report by the Urban Institute that details the formal study design, methodology, and results. Together, the two reports provide an in-depth review of the lessons learned and offer some thoughts about implications for future work from the perspectives of the third-party project manager and researcher.

The lessons described in the reports are the culmination of a true team effort. Over the past two years, more than 50 faculty members and nearly 20 senior administrators across the nine institutions have participated in the project either through teaching or providing oversight and support at their own institutions. Each institution’s learning management system administrators and institutional research teams also provided direct support to the project. Moreover, over 6,000 students from these nine institutions participated in the study, sharing valuable insights about their learning experiences. Feedback from various participants has been critical in informing our interpretation of the formal research results and the lessons learned that are captured in these reports.

In terms of the key impact findings, the analysis of the full-scale pilot in 2017-18—which included all nine institutions—showed statistically significant positive outcomes for students at the four-year institutions in course grade, course passing rate, and statistical competency, but no impact on learning outcomes for students at the two-year institutions. Student learning outcomes remained different at the four-year institutions compared to the two-year institutions for the extended pilot (fall 2018). It is important to note, however, that within each institution type, there was notable variability in impact estimates across the individual institutions; in other words, not all four-year institutions had significantly positive results for all outcome measures, and not all two-year institutions had neutral results for all outcome measures. The variable learning gains observed in the study emphasize the need for additional research to better understand the combinations of technology and pedagogy that work for different students in different contexts.

Next month, Ithaka S+R will also be releasing commentaries from several of the participants in the study who have agreed to share their reflections on the project from multiple perspectives, including state/national thought leadership in math education and the system office in Maryland charged with encouraging and supporting innovation in teaching and learning, as well as faculty and administrative leaders at some of the participating institutions.

We encourage readers to delve into the two reports as well as the upcoming commentaries, and share their thoughts and comments with us below.