Pierce offers co-requisite math classes

Pierce College has joined other colleges throughout the nation with the implementation of co-requisite math classes. These co-requisite classes offer students who placed in developmental math the the chance to complete their college level math and ultimately complete their degrees sooner. The classes offer seven credits by combining all basic, developmental level math with a college level in one course. Instead of building and going through Math 50 to Math 98, a process that could potentially take up to a year, students are now offered the opportunity to bypass the wait and jump into college level classes.

“We’re really excited about this program. I think it’s going to turn out to be one of the most important student success efforts that we’ve engaged in as a college,” said Tom Broxson, dean of natural sciences.

While Pierce isn’t the only college in Washington experimenting with this program, with community colleges such as Highline College also making the move, it’s among the first in the state to completely transition to a co-requisite model. A co-requisite program for Pierce has been in the making for a number of years but was just piloted last spring, with only a handful of statistics classes offered between the Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom campuses.

Since then, the program now includes Math 107, Math 141 and Math 98 along with the original Math 146. According to Broxson, Pierce has been attempting multiple methods of trying to get students through college level math for about 10 years. The first complete redesign of the precollege math courses occurred six years ago, which resulted in the implementation of Maths 50-96.

Prior to this, the three course sequence was originally four courses.

“Every time you add a class into a sequence, you have fewer students get through it just because it takes longer. Life gets in the way and you create more and more barriers the more classes there are,” Broxson said.

He said one of the assumedly biggest reasons students don’t complete a degree is because they’re placed in developmental math and can’t get out. Math professor Tom McCollow demonstrated this issue by explaining only about 12-13% of students pass statistics if they needed three or more quarters of pre-college math in order to reach it.

With the introduction of co-requisite classes, that number has increased. Before the redesign, only 19% of students completed a college level math in their first year. The first round of redesign peaked students at 38% of first year completion, and this addition of co-requisite classes is predicted to put them at more than 50%.

“Which is amazing. I mean, that translates directly to an increase in graduation rates,” said Broxson.

According to McCollow, a typical class he teaches has a passing rate of about 80%. That number hardly decreased for the pilot class.

He said his most rewarding experience teaching the class was watching the transformation his students went through, from anxious and timid to confident and mathematically capable.

Co-requisite programs are being used throughout the country, with states like California, Texas and Tennessee entirely committing to, or heading in the direction, of the system. California and Texas, specifically, are no longer offering prerequisite classes.

At Pierce College, according to Broxson, more than half of what would otherwise be pre-college math is now offered as a co-requisite. By summer quarter, nearly all prerequisite classes will become co-requisite.

“The common characteristic with all of these classes is the emphasis on meeting each student where they’re at in terms of their math knowledge, instead of assuming everybody’s at a certain level,” said Broxson.

To help ensure this characteristic remains true, Pierce created a learning community comprised of all the faculty teaching a co-requisite class. Faculty members meet every other week to share experiences and ideas. During spring and summer quarters, one of the professors will compile training materials and then form somewhat of an institute that’ll help others walk through teaching a co-requisite class.

Broxson explained that, because of the newness of the program, a number of professors weren’t previously experienced with how to teach in the certain way the co-requisites required. He said, while Pierce professors are dedicated to student success, previous education likely didn’t prepare them for teaching a co-requisite.

Because of this, Pierce wanted to ensure professors had just as much support as the students.

“It’s more than just teaching topics,” said McCollow. “It’s how do you get the students to buy into that they can do this stuff, how do you build their confidence, how do you defeat their anxiety.”

Pierce officials also made an extra effort to have embedded tutoring available for the classes. Non-cognitive supports are also trying to be implemented, like childcare, transportation and food insecurity assistance.

“A lot of students are not successful in math or other college courses because there’s a lot of other basic needs that are not being met,” said Broxson.

On top of non-cognitive support, Broxson explained that Pierce is also changing how students are placed into a co-requisite class, via the elimination of the Accuplacer test. This is partly because students lack mathematical confidence in a test setting and are unable to test accurately as a result. Pierce wanted to create a safe learning environment for uneasy students.

Broxson and McCollow both agreed being able to build relationships with and help mentor students is equally important as teaching math. McCollow was chosen to teach the pilot class because of his previous experience teaching developmental math, as well as his interest in the possibilities the course could offer. He explained that his biggest challenge teaching the pilot class was the anxiety held by the students. He and Pierce wanted to help students overcome their worries by offering an encouraging place to do so.

“The anxiety in that classroom that first week was overwhelming and I wanted to beat that down,” said McCollow, “I wanted to really get you guys (students) to build your confidence that, yes, you can do this, and I think we were successful.”

This safe learning environment partially stemmed from the desire to have students complete their college level math classes and move all the closer to graduating and, ultimately, the rest of their goals.

Student Glenn Lees was among the first to enroll in a co-requisite class and said he was grateful for the opportunity it gave him. He explained he’d dropped Math 98 within a day and avoided math for another year, until the offer of the co-requisite course became known to him.

“I looked at my career path and it required so much math. I thought ‘I can’t do this,’” said Lees. “Then I met Mr. Tom McCollow and immediately thought, ‘Yeah, I could have. I just needed a different start at it. I can’t give it enough of a glowing recommendation and how it helped me with my career moving forward.”

The course is seven credits, with five going toward math and the remaining two toward general electives. It’s eight hours per week. All eight hours are required, with two being a lab taught at the same time plus an additional hour for embedded tutoring.

McCollow explained the assumption can’t be made that all the students know and understand math, so the extra time is beneficial. McCollow’s pilot method consisted of teaching the basics in two weeks, then charging into statistics.

While each instructor now brings their own style to the class, a common approach is the just-in-time math. This approach starts by teaching college level from the beginning and brushing up on pre-college level basics as the needs arise.

The classes are identifiable by their title of MathL, insinuating the included lab. When registering and selecting details, it states the course requires enrollment in the additional two-credit co-requisite.

Students will be automatically assigned to this upon registration of the class. The registration process currently allows anybody the option to enroll in the course, although McCollow is hopeful it’ll one day be reserved for the students who need it.

As the course is relatively new to Pierce, details will continue being checked on and improvements will continue being made as time goes on. Pierce will hold an awareness campaign in spring for the course and Broxson’s eager it’ll make more students aware of co-requisites.

“It’s a very important step in all the work we’ve been doing to help students be more successful,” said Broxson.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Kathryn Scott

Pierce offers co-requisite math classes

by Kathryn Scott time to read: 6 min