Recently, I heard that Ohio is the latest state to officially declare that Intermediate Algebra is the minimum prerequisite to college credit bearing math courses. The results of such policies are seldom positive for students (and these policies do not help us in mathematics education), and they reflect archaic notions about college mathematics.
I suggest that this ‘intermediate algebra’ policy is a regressive practice which disproportionately impacts students from under-represented groups and those from social groups with lower levels of resources. Stated another way: These policies prevent community colleges from properly serving specifically those groups for whom community colleges are the institutions of choice. These groups, collectively seen as “low power social groups”, are critical to both the community college mission and our country’s future.
Most data that I have seen suggests two separate factors that make this policy (and its consequences) so bad:
- Low power groups (underrepresented, or low resources) are placed into developmental math at disproportionate rates and at the lower levels of math at disproportionate rates.
- Low power groups tend to have even lower rates of success in developmental mathematics (compared to majority/high power groups).
An “intermediate algebra is a gatekeeper” policy reinforces existing inequities in our society, as the students with the fewest options are placed in lower levels of math with more courses to complete but with a lower probability of doing so.
The emerging models (New Life, Carnegie Pathways, Dana Center Mathways) have a basic strategy of creating appropriate mathematics courses for all of our students with a deliberate reduction in the length of the math sequence; instead of 3 or 4 math courses, the new models plan on 2 as a typical sequence. The “intermediate algebra is gatekeeper” policy conflicts with quicker access to college work, and will limit college completion initiatives; such a policy creates a 72-credit associate degree (counting the required math prerequisites), which means that students using financial aid will ‘run out’ of resources.
Policy makers are likely to be creating these rules without information on their impact for our students and for the success of our programs. The AMATYC Developmental Mathematics Committee (https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/amatyc-dmc) has a small team currently working on a position statement which might help inform those involved with such policies in the future.
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