Looking at Research on Improving College Math Readiness


April 9, 2014


Principal’s Research Review Cover

Large numbers of students enter college academically underprepared, especially when it comes to mathematics. According to national data on a 2003 cohort of students that was tracked to 2009, 60 percent of students who attended a public, two-year college took a developmental math course, which is a not-for-credit, basic skills class. Being underprepared in math increases the likelihood that students will drop out of college and it can negatively affect their interest in STEM careers, their job opportunities, and their lifetime earnings.

In the January 2014 issue of Principal’s Research Review, two Education Northwest authors explore the research on this topic. Michelle Hodara and Rhonda Barton examined research on three ways to improve students’ transition to college and to be better prepared for the rigors of postsecondary math:

  • Accelerated college credit (ACC) options, such as Advanced Placement classes, the International Baccalaureate program, dual credit, and dual enrollment, allow students to earn college credit while in high school. ACC options generally offer high school students a more rigorous curriculum, an early indication of their readiness for college-level coursework and a better understanding of the expectations of college-level work.
  • Early assessments indicate whether high school students are academically prepared for college-level math and English. Early assessment is a fairly widespread practice with 25 states supporting statewide early assessment programs. Typically, a postsecondary state agency in collaboration with the K–12 state agency offers all high school students a statewide assessment that measures readiness for college coursework in that postsecondary system.
  • Summer bridge programs usually are geared to students who are placed into remediation through testing or to students entering STEM programs who are not prepared for the first college math course in the program (often precalculus or calculus). Bridge programs are typically designed to improve students’ math skills, as well as orient them to the college culture, build their study skills, and provide a network of support prior to enrolling.

These programs often require partnerships between secondary and postsecondary schools and systems. While they demand greater effort, they offer a way to improve college math readiness as well as impact students’ overall success.