Every year, millions of students entering college, including a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic students, are referred to developmental (or remedial) math courses. Fewer than half of these students pass through the developmental course sequence and into college-level math. Being referred to developmental education courses is also highly correlated with dropping out of school. With these troubling statistics in mind, many colleges, university systems, and states have taken bold action to reform developmental education, making changes to everything from the way they assess students’ college readiness to the structure and sequencing of developmental education courses. Many of these reforms are showing promising results in rigorous studies. Fewer reforms, however, have sought to address some of the most challenging problems with respect to developmental and college-level math: course content and teaching methods.
The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin (Dana Center) launched the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP) (formerly the New Mathways Project) in 2011 with the support of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. At the time, the program diversified the developmental and college-level math course content, separating it into distinct pathways that better aligned with students’ career interests. It also streamlined the developmental math sequence, so students who tested two or more levels below college ready in math were only required to take a one-semester developmental course, and it implemented an evidence-based curricula and pedagogy to engage students in active problem solving pertinent to real-life situations. It was hypothesized that these key components would support students in ways that would make them more likely to complete the developmental math sequence, pass their first-year college-level math course, and accumulate more math credits (math completion). Changes in math completion would further help students persist in college longer and accumulate more credits (academic progress), and ultimately be more likely to earn a certificate or degree (academic success). Since the launch of this early version of DCMP, the Dana Center has continued to refine and update the program over time.
Starting in 2014, researchers from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness—a partnership involving the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College and MDRC, as well as research scholars from several universities—began studying this early version of the DCMP model using a randomized controlled trial at four Texas community colleges. The colleges included El Paso Community College, Trinity Valley Community College, and two colleges from the Dallas County Community College District: Brookhaven College and Eastfield College. The study targeted students who planned to major in the social sciences or liberal arts and were referred to one or more levels of the developmental math sequence. A majority of the students in the study were Hispanic and female, and over 80 percent tested at least two levels below college ready on the math placement exam. After three semesters, this early version of DCMP was found to have a positive impact on all the measures of students’ math completion (students’ completion of the developmental math sequence, their likelihood of taking and passing college-level math, and the number of math credits they earned).
The short-term findings around math completion were promising. However, the original study period did not allow for an exploration of the longer-term outcomes associated with academic progress and success. The research team has thus extended the project and undertaken a long-term follow-up study to examine the program’s impacts through five years after random assignment, explore the long-term effects on subgroups of students, and conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis.
This brief presents interim findings from the long-term study for the first three years after random assignment and provides an exploratory analysis of the effectiveness of the program for various subgroups. The findings presented here show that the impacts found on math completion in the original study were sustained during the first three years, but that these impacts did not lead to impacts on students’ broader academic progress or success.