The Calculus River … Follow the Flow

One of the myths about developmental mathematics is that very few students take STEM courses.  Often, we hear people joke that one student makes it to calculus.

Here is some data from my college showing how many students started from various levels in mathematics (over a 3 year period).

Started in beginning algebra or lower       105 out of 937             55% of that 105 pass calculus 1

Started in intermediate algebra                  177 out of 937              58% of that 177 pass calculus 1

Started in pre-calculus                                  457 out of 937             69% of that 457 pass calculus 1

Started in calculus 1                                       162 out of 937             69% of that 162 pass calculus 1

Over 10% of our calculus 1 students began in beginning algebra or lower.  We treat intermediate algebra as a developmental math course … so we’d say that over 25% of our calculus 1 students started in a developmental math course.

Not only do we have over 25% of our calculus students starting in developmental math, their pass rate in calculus is not that much lower than students who started in calculus.  It’s true that the proportions are statistically significant.  However, given the differences in student characteristics (placed in dev math versus not), the difference is relatively small.  Of course, we would like to improve the preparation so that the proportions are not different at all.

One of the reasons to point out the false nature of this myth is that our developmental math courses need reform for ALL students … not just those in ‘non-STEM’ fields.  In the New Life model, we propose using Mathematical Literacy for all students (as needed) and Algebraic Literacy instead of Intermediate Algebra.  Algebraic Literacy has learning outcomes designed to provide some early foundational work using concepts that are critical in calculus, as well as having a stronger basis in function properties and behavior.


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