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By KayMills
Cleveland, Tennessee
iffanyWhite, out of high school for 15 years,
confesses that she was “really nervous” about taking
algebra at Cleveland State Community College in
southeastern Tennessee. “But I’ve surprisedmyself by doing
better than I thought I would,” she said. She’s motivated
because she was laid off from a manufacturing job last May
and wants to become a legal assistant.
And she is helped along by a redesignedmath program
that uses technology to focus attention on the skills students
need for college-level courses and lets themmove at their own
pace instead of in lockstep with classmates. White also likes the
idea that, while she is at the computer in the math lab, “all day
long somebody is here if I need help.”
White said that, while she had passed the writing
placement test in about 13 minutes, after almost an hour she
failed the math test. But halfway through the spring semester,
she had already finished elementary algebra and had decided
tomove on to intermediate algebra.
Cleveland State, which is about 30 miles from
Chattanooga, enrolled 3,471 students (2,329 full-time
equivalent) this spring. Seven hundred students must take
developmental math each semester because of gaps in their
background. But in the past only 54 percent of themmoved
“We’ve got 20 years of data to show that the lecture
method of teaching doesn’t work,” said KarenWyrick, math
department chair. “We had toomany kids failing. We had too
many kids dropping
out before they got
through.This approach
is quicker and saves
money.” It also helps
students complete
the courses at higher
rates. For example, the
completion rate (that
is, achieving a C or
better) for elementary
algebra was 50 percent
before the redesign,
68 percent afterward.
The intermediate algebra completion rate increased from 57
percent to 74 percent.
In addition, the overall college retention rate increased
by seven percent in spring 2009. “That’s due to the math
department,”Wyrick said.
Cleveland State’s redesign and several others in Tennessee
occurred with the support of the National Center for
Academic Transformation (NCAT), headed by Carol Twigg,
May 2010
Redesigning the Basics
Tennessee’s community colleges use technology to change their approach to developmental reading and math
its president and CEO.
Starting in fall 2007,
the Tennessee Board
of Regents (TBR) staff
convenedmeetings to
familiarize its schools
with the NCAT
approach to delivering
instruction by taking
advantage of technology
andmeasuring student
learning, all with the
aimof serving more
students better and at
less cost. Supported by
an $8.8 million grant
from the PewCharitable
Trusts, NCAT had
previously awarded
grants to 30 colleges
and universities to
reorganize large classes,
such as the Psychology 201 course at Cal Poly Pomona.
Representatives from all the community colleges and
universities—the University of Tennessee systemdoes not
come under the Tennessee Board of Regents—had to attend
the first sessions. After that, participation was voluntary; 17 of
the 19 TBR schools submitted 28 applications for redesigns.
NCAT awarded six grants of $40,000 each to Tennessee
schools, using money from the Fund for Improvement of
Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). Five were community
colleges; the sixth was Austin Peay State University. Two
redesigns covered remedial reading or writing courses, and
four involvedmath.
NCAT reported that the redesigns at four of the schools
improved course completion rates and school retention rates
while reducing costs. Financial savings at the community
colleges ranged from 19 percent to 51 percent.
Nationwide in this round of grants, NCAT has also worked
with campuses in four other states: Arizona, Mississippi,
New York andMaryland. Most of the schools involved are
four-year institutions, but Niagara County Community
College in Sanborn, New York, received a grant to redesign its
introductory statistics course.
Much of the action concerning developmental education
is occurring at the community college level, as states work
to shift these courses out of four-year institutions. The
Education Commission of the States (ECS), based in Denver,
Colorado, which worked with Tennessee in preparing its
FIPSE grant application, sponsors the “Getting Past Go”
project through which it helps states develop policy and
Karen Wyrick, math department chairman at Cleveland
State College in Tennessee, made the instructional videos
that accompany the college’s redesigned developmental
math courses.
“We’ve got 20 years
of data to show that
the lecture method
of teaching doesn’t
—Karen Wyrick, Cleveland
State Community College
Wade Payne, Black Star, for CrossTalk