Each year nearly half of U.S. high school graduates who begin college are forced to take remedial math before they can take college courses for credit. For most, this remediation requirement is unexpected and a substantial barrier to earning a college degree. Only 22% of students who face math remediation are able to finish college. For minority, low-income, and first generation students—who now comprise the majority of college students in the U.S.—math remediation may be even more detrimental to their degree attainment rates.

Organizations such as the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have approached this problem by developing alternative pathways for students into college-level math and math-related coursework, obviating the need for traditional remedial programs and introducing students to the relevance of quantitative concepts and methods in a wide variety of academic disciplines and career education.  Building on that work, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded to Ithaka S+R a $2.46 million, two-year grant to create introductory math courses that couple this pedagogical approach with an adaptive learning platform and courseware. By re-designing the math curricula for the introductory statistics course as an example, the project will enable more students at both community colleges and 4-year public institutions to meet core requirements and continue on to more advanced courses in mathematics and related fields, while helping to raise overall college graduation rates. ​

Ithaka S+R, working in collaboration with Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics (TPSE Math), will use next generation software and, in particular a robust adaptive learning platform and courseware, to demonstrate that such courses can be implemented across a large number of both 2-year and 4-year institutions in a way that is both repeatable and affordable, ensuring that students transferring across the institutions are fully prepared for those more advanced curricula no matter which institution they took the introductory course.  This work will include designing, delivering, and assessing an exemplar course in statistics and creating training materials to support faculty teaching the course at multiple institutions.

“We’ve seen important strides in adaptive learning technologies over the past few years,” said Catharine Bond Hill, managing director of Ithaka S+R. “Along with the important work that is being done on alternative pathways, we can take advantage of the pedagogical advances of these technologies to help students with different levels of preparation master math skills and then proceed with their college education and attain their degrees.”

William (‘Brit’) Kirwan, executive director of TPSE Math, recently retired chancellor of the University System of Maryland, and project co-lead, noted, “This grant will allow us to both encourage the further development of digital learning platforms to improve outcomes in entry level math courses and help us develop multiple pathways for quantitative literacy that ensure that all students, not just STEM majors, have entry-level math courses relevant for their intended majors and future careers.”

Development of the exemplar course is already underway. In the fall 2016 semester the project team piloted four sections of an introductory, credit-bearing statistics course built on a sophisticated adaptive learning platform at the University of Maryland, College Park and three Montgomery College campuses.  During the next two years, the project will focus on evaluating which aspects of the course’s functionality are most important to student success. Research on the outcomes of the exemplar course will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum, the adaptive learning platform, and the training module.  The project team has begun working with additional colleges and universities in Maryland, with plans to scale the offering of the course starting in the fall of 2017.  These iterations will contribute to the evolution of product specifications over time and will also inform the necessary training of faculty on both the course content and the adaptive learning technologies needed to support the cost effective use of the course across multiple institutions.

In addition to Ithaka S+R, TPSE, the University of Maryland at College Park, and Montgomery College, the project team includes representatives from the William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, University System of Maryland, Acrobatiq as the provider of the adaptive learning platform and advisor on delivery and content, and the Urban Institute as leader of the project assessment team.