Improving Students’ College Math Readiness: A Review of the Evidence on Postsecondary Interventions and Reforms
This paper reviews current research on the effectiveness of interventions and reforms that seek to improve the math preparedness and success of high school students entering college. Based on gaps in the research knowledge, it also provides recommendations for further inquiry in particular areas. The studies reviewed here are selected from research conducted by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) and the National Center for Postsecondary Research (NCPR), from searches of the Education Full Text database for peer-reviewed articles, and from searches of Google Scholar for high-quality reports. The two key criteria for inclusion in the review are that (1) the study in question focuses on (a) an early assessment program in math; (b) a math bridge, boot camp, or brush-up; (c) a reform of developmental math; or (d) improvements to math instruction; and that (2) at least one of the study’s outcomes is related to changes in math or college performance. To evaluate the evidence, I report on each study’s design and findings. I also calculate each intervention’s effect size and categorize the effect size to compare impacts across the studies under review. Overall, the evidence is limited, but some of the interventions and reforms appear promising. The evidence on early assessment is minimal. The evidence on bridges, boot camps, and brush-ups suggests that short-term programs may only have short-term impacts. The evidence on different models of developmental reform varies depending on the reform model. For dominant models, it is positive (for compression models), insignificant (for learning communities), or negative (for modularization). For less prevalent models, it is positive (for mainstreaming) or needs further research (for statistics pathways). In terms of innovations that are strictly pedagogical, the strongest positive evidence is found for using structured forms of student collaboration and for building conceptual understanding through the use of multiple representations when teaching and solving problems. The evidence on computer-mediated instruction in the developmental math classroom is very mixed, with some studies finding positive effects and others finding negative effects.
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