Algebra or statistics?

Most new students place into remedial math at California community colleges. Eighty percent will never pass a college-level math course. Some colleges have boosted success rates by teaching statistics and quantitative reasoning, rather than algebra, to non-STEM students.

Florida colleges will let students opt for college-level courses, even if they’ve done poorly on a placement exam. Instead of letting students ignore the placement results, let them try the test again, a graduate student suggests.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    My first thought was “How the hell do you teach statistics without algebra?” It sounded like they were talking about just doing arithmetic with percentage signs instead of decimals. But they apparently mean “intermediate algebra” — whatever that is.

    But the article talks about math AND English sequences… so let’s imagine this argument with respect to something else….

    *** (wobbly fade to a dream sequence….) ***

    The requirement to write in complete sentences is a major barrier to graduation, the report finds. Most entering community college students place into remedial writing. Eighty percent fail to complete the sequence and pass college-level writing courses.

    Half of Blacks and Latinos start community college with very weak writing skills. Only 6 percent of students who place into the lowest remedial writing level will put together a complete sentence on paper within three years.

    “We need to think hard about how remedial writing sequences can best serve students who don’t want to become professional authors, lawyers, or academics,” says Cinda Lollins, executive director of WearningLurks. “Really, how many of our students are in jobs that require any writing at all other than “Grande soy latte?”

    California is accelerating remediation in math and English, but transfer policies are getting the way, reports Faul Pain on Inside Higher Ed.

    A faculty-led group called the California Acceleration Project has helped 42 of the state’s community colleges offer redesigned, faster versions of remedial math and English tracks. But the group’s co-founders said they would be able to make much more progress if the University of California changed its transfer credit requirements.

    Snyra Mell, a literature professor at Moss Ledanos College, created Fath2Pun to move remedial students quickly to college-level poetry analysis and social critique. Her students “were more than four times as likely to complete college-level English as their peers in traditional remedial sequences,” writes Fain.

    Currently 21 community colleges offer similar English courses.

    But UC requires transfers to write numerous papers in complete sentences. Accelerated English doesn’t include enough grammar, according to UC.

  2. Is this article saying that 80% of California’s college students – at any vocational school, community college, or University – will *never* pass a college level Math course?? Wow…

    • It’s not quite that bad. Eighty percent test into at least one remedial course, but the 6 percent success rate in college-level math only applies to those who test into the lowest-level of remedial math.

  3. Stats at the college or high school level requires a working
    knowledge of basic algebra. I took a course (introductory)
    in informatics which had stuff like mean/mode/variance/std deviation, and some probability.

    Students who didn’t have a solid working knowledge of math and in particular algebra pretty much bombed the 2nd exam, as the class average was 69% (I scored 95% and when curve adjusted came in at 107%).

    Note: the four students who did the best on this exam were over the age of 40, and we had one student who was majoring in electrical engineering, and none of us scored less than 90%.

    The fact that 80% of students in the cal-state system will
    never pass a college level math course, makes me wonder why they were admitted in the first place.


  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    However you teach stat, including methodology if not the arithmetic of it, teach it. Makes it more difficult for people to run a “studies show” con on the population..

  5. Crimson Wife says:

    How did these students manage to graduate high school without having mastered high school level math??? I can understand older matriculants having forgotten a lot of what they had learned after having been out of school for so long, but that cannot account for an 80% remediation rate.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Most high school students haven’t mastered much of anything. Rather, they have passed courses.

      How is it possible to pass a class without understanding much? In math… Do a lot of drill. Then have quizzes and tests that are pretty much exact replicas of what was practiced in that unit. Young people have amazing short term memories.

      If you are forced to give mid-terms or finals, review exactly what will be on those exams. Refresh that short-term memory.

      Then, once a student has passed a course, pretend that they have “mastered” the material in it. Never, never do follow-up assessment of that “mastery” (which would be an administrative nightmare, anyway). If a future course requires skills or knowledge from that course, review, review, review.

      Similar things can be done in non-math courses. If the courses don’t build on previous courses, the self-deception can be perfect. E.g., most high schools have a biology/chemistry/physics sequence. The physics course has nothing in common with the chemistry course and the chemistry course has nothing in common with the biology course, so there is no way of knowing that the senior who took freshman biology has retained very little of it.

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        Truth be told, super-introductory level bio, physics, and chem don’t have a lot to do with one another.

        Physics doesn’t really come into chemistry until WAY later in the game. Chem doesn’t come into Bio until WAY later in the game.

        Of course, maybe I just believe that because of the way I was taught.

        • My sciences in high school consisted of Biology I and II, Earth Science, Chemistry, Physics (my worst subject in science), and Anatomy and Physiology.

          The only courses which had a linkage were Biology and Anatomy and Physiology, but that’s to be expected.

          Also, most classes these days are actually pass and forget in high school, which makes for a horrible experience in college when you really need to know the material to make it through college level math.

          The fact that so many students require remediation at the college level is a damning indictment of the public education system as a whole (note that I’m not including that segment of the population which needs to take a refresher course in math concepts since they haven’t seen it in 20 to 30 years).


        • Roger Sweeny says:

          College freshman bio, physics, and chem don’t have a lot to do with one another. Neither do college freshman economics, sociology, and political science. To the extent that freshman courses are “introduction to the major,” that makes a certain sense because different departments have different approaches to what is, after all, one universe.

          However, to the extent that a high school course is “what you should know as an educated citizen,” it makes little sense. Everybody who has been to ed school knows Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design. First decide what you want students to know and be able to do. Then work backwards to develop lessons, assessments, etc. to make that happen.

          Almost no one involved in 9-12 does that when deciding what courses to offer. Instead, it’s, “Colleges do it like this, and colleges are great. Besides, offering high school versions of college courses means we can get teachers who have taken college courses just like the ones we’ll be giving. And there will be textbooks and materials that are the same all across the country.”

          (If Common Core is actually implemented, it may have a big impact in terms of the rigor of courses but at least in broad outline, there has been a national high school curriculum for years and years.)

        • Mark Roulo says:

          One example of where there *SHOULD* be a relationship is when teaching the “Krebs Citric Cycle” in biology. Does everyone remember being taught this (I won’t say learning it …)? And does anyone not doing biology today remember what it is and how it works?


          In any event, the point is that the cycle is basically a sequence of chemical reactions … and how chemistry works won’t be taught until the next year in traditional US high school sequence (Bio -> Chem -> Physics). So the biology course tries to teach a “bit” of chemistry, but the sequence is pretty much “memorized, but not understood” for the test and then promptly forgotten.


          As a practical matter, it probably doesn’t matter. Teaching chemistry first won’t change the “memorize for test, then forget,” but the lack of chemistry background necessary to understand the cycle certainly doesn’t help.


          Trivia question for those who care: which of the following attributes are necessary for a life form to be an animal: brain, nervous system, circulatory system, digestive system?

          • Being able to recite Kreb’s cycle (from memory) along with the processes at each part was mandatory in order to pass Biology II as a senior in 1981.

            You didn’t know it, you didn’t pass the course (which was an elective in my day, since you only needed two units of science, one of which had to be a lab science in order to graduate).

  6. Wait? Statistics is easier than Algebra? how?