Beyond Co-Requisites: Math Success at Cal State LA

When Executive Order 1110 required the end of remedial math across the California State University (CSU) system by Fall 2018, Cal State LA sprang into action. Through an inclusive, collaborative redesign process that included campus and community stakeholders, a consensus on goals was reached: to increase completion of quantitative reasoning courses and eliminate the completion gap.

Across the CSU system, remedial math wasn’t meeting students’ needs. It represented “a deficit model,” according to Loren Blanchard, the system’s executive vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. “[The remediation system] must be reformed if we really hope to achieve our equity and completion goals,” he said.

The team at Cal State LA led the way, designing and implementing a comprehensive plan. They started with an overhaul of the math curriculum. Three math pathways were established: a course in “Quantitative Reasoning in Today’s World,” a second called “Statistics Pathway,” and a third, “STEM Pathway.” All three courses have common syllabi and assessments. Materials were normed and made more student-centered. Multi-section courses have coordinators, and students have access to co-requisite “just-in-time support.”

Academic coaches are providing students with extra support around time management, planning and goal setting, access to university resources, and study tips. An early warning system based on attendance, assignments, and participation data allows instructors to intervene in real time. Additionally, Cal State LA’s Early Start Program uses these same strategies with incoming students who require additional math support. These students take a course the summer before their freshman year with the goal of being better prepared for course work before they start, thereby improving their chances of completing their degree.

And, just as important, the redesign has the administration’s full support. Any roadblocks were cleared away for curriculum review and approval, enrollment needs, and staffing levels.

But what Cal State LA believes distinguishes its efforts is their investment in their math faculty. Nearly sixty received extensive support from their nationally-recognized Center for Effective Teaching and Learning in partnership with ACUE. Under expert facilitation, cohorts of faculty, learned about implementing 12 of the core teaching competencies defined in ACUE’s independently-validated Effective Practice Framework. Nearly half of all participants went on to earn their full certificate in effective college instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education.

Cal State LA reports that faculty acquired a “common language” for describing quality learning in their math classes. Or as Sharona Krinsky, a math instructor and ACUE facilitator, noted, “I’m getting stopped in the halls by colleagues and approached in the tutorial center. It’s one of the coolest things that has happened. I’m seeing a higher level of engagement between the faculty, instead of us all being in our own worlds. There is a commonality of engagement that had been completely lacking.”

The proof is in the early student results: mid-course survey responses show that students have observed their teachers providing more regular feedback, assigning more meaningful work, and keeping class well organized and well paces, among other evidence-based teaching practices.

And academic results? They’re big. Early Start students passed their summer math courses at a rate between 90-95%, with 12% of the freshman class completing their GE math requirement before beginning their first year. The percentage of first-year students who completed their math requirement increased by 25% every year between 2016 and 2018. Whereas 1,808, or 47% of students completed their course in 2016, this figure rose to 2,837, or 76%, in 2018. Notably, in this area of first-year math completion, the overall achievement gap between Pell-eligible and non-Pell-eligible students was eliminated from a high of 6%.

“We’re determined to keep that statistic 0%—and completely eliminate the achievement gap in all areas, and to keep pushing the rates of quality completion to even higher levels,” said Michelle Hawley, associate vice president and dean of undergraduate studies. “It’s what we’re here to do and who we are.”


This story was prepared with Cal State LA and adapted from a presentation delivered at the AASCU 2019 Summer Academic Affairs meeting by Michelle Hawley, associate vice president and dean, undergraduate studies, Pamela Scott-Johnson, dean, natural and social sciences, and Owynn Lancaster, instructional designer, Center for Effective Teaching and Learning.

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