Notes on Remedial Math Problem

By Jerry Dancis



1.  My summary of Dr. Ronald Williams, President, Prince George's Community College [PGCC] presentation, at the September 6, 2006 meeting of the Prince George's County Council's Blue Ribbon Committee on High Stakes Testing [State of Maryland HSAs]: 


The numbers of students needing remediation went from 63% in 1999 to 71%  today.  One eighth of the PGCC budget is allocated to remediation.


Specifically, there is a remedial math problem. Many students collect 40 credits at PGCC, but avoid the remedial math courses and then drop out.  Many other students just take remedial courses and then drop out.  There is a chasm between what students are learning in high school math and what PGCC demands.


The bulk of the students at PGCC were in the middle half of their high school graduation class, not the best and not the worst.


2.  At the Greenbelt Labor Day parade, I was told that future plumbers and steel workers need instruction in Arithmetic.


3.  Excerpts from:

At 2-Year Colleges, Students Eager but Unready


The New York Times  September 2, 2006

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Mr. Walton is not unusual. As the new school year begins, the nation’s 1,200 community colleges are being deluged with hundreds of thousands of students unprepared for college-level work.


Nearly half the 14.7 million undergraduates at two- and four-year institutions never receive degrees. The deficiencies turn up not just in math, science and engineering, areas in which a growing chorus warns of difficulties in the face of global competition, but also in the basics of reading and writing.


According to scores on the 2006 ACT college entrance exam, 21 percent of students applying to four-year institutions are ready for college-level work in all four areas tested, reading, writing, math and biology.


The unyielding statistics showcase a deep disconnection between what high school teachers think that their students need to know and what professors, even at two-year colleges, expect them to know.


At Cal State, the system admits only students with at least a B average in high school. Nevertheless, 37 percent of the incoming class last year needed remedial math, and 45 percent needed remedial English.


“Students are still shocked when they’re told they need developmental courses,’’ said Donna McKusik, the senior director of developmental, or remedial, education at the Community College of Baltimore County. “They think they graduated from a high school, they should be ready for college.’’


Most of the students expect the transition to community college to be seamless. But the first, and sometimes last, stop for many are remedial math classes.


“It’s the math that’s killing us,’’ Dr. McKusik said.


More than one in four remedial students work on elementary and middle school arithmetic. Math is where students often lose confidence and give up.


Along a wall [of the tutoring center at the Community College of Baltimore County Dundalk’s campus] is a rack of handouts explaining points of grammar that might have last been explicitly taught in middle school, a measure of the immense ground to be made up. One covers comparative adjectives, explaining “more” vs. “most” or “smarter” vs. “smartest.” Another discusses using pronouns and verb tenses.




Note: The Community College of Baltimore County is for Baltimore County, the suburbs of Baltimore; not to be confused with Baltimore City Community College, wherein the remedial problem is much worse.


4. Excerpts from:

"Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They?"  NY Times Front page December 3, 2003



"… Rosa Arevelo seemed the "Texas miracle" in motion.  … she passed the high school exam required for graduation on her first try. A program of college prep courses earned her the designation "Texas scholar." 


"Rosa Arevelo graduated from Davis High with a B average."


"At the University of Houston, though, Ms. Arevelo discovered the distance between what Texas public schools called success and what she needed to know. ... She failed the college entrance exam in math twice, even with a year of remedial algebra. At 19, she gave up and went to trade school."