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Commitment to math skills is adding up

11-19-2012

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The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching created Statway (short for The Statistics Pathway) a few years ago to help struggling remedial-math students in community colleges earn transferable college statistics credit in just one year.

Sacramento State took the concept to a higher level as one of just three universities, along with 19 junior colleges, in the founding cohort. Coskun Cetin, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, introduced back-to-back pilot courses in Fall 2011: Stat 96A focused on remedial math topics and introduced students to basic probability and statistics concepts, while the second-semester course, Stat 96B, delved further into inferential statistics applications.

Statistics

Approximately 80 percent of the Sac State students passed the yearlong course, which was a slightly better result than at other schools participating in Statway.

“This method works, both in terms of using the resources and time in an efficient manner, getting students into their majors and improving our graduation rates,” Cetin says.

Unless they have an exemption, all undergraduates entering the California State University must take the Entry Level Mathematics (ELM) exam prior to enrolling for their first semester. They must score 50 or better to pass.

“Thirty to 40 percent of our students don’t pass the ELM test,” says Cetin. “They need some guidance, some remediation. For some students, it’s a big burden, because they don’t need a lot of math to graduate in their major.

“With this project, if students don’t have the remediation requirements satisfied but are close (to passing the ELM), we select them and introduce them to some of the needed algebra concepts with statistics content. So they don’t need to take all of those courses in math and try to attempt the diagnostics test repeatedly. It’s a waste of resources and time,” he says.

Students who successfully complete Stat 96A will get the remediation they need and don’t have to take the ELM test again. They also are eligible to continue on with Stat 96B. If they pass the second half of the yearlong course, they will satisfy the University’s requirement of remediation and receive extra college credit.

The pilot program is now in its second year, offering two sections of each course.

“It gives students a different mindset about having to learn, having to study and having to test well,” says Cetin. “Math is a challenging concept. In this course, we say, ‘You cannot give up. There are going to be some difficult concepts, but you have to continue working on them. You have to spend time to get to the truth, and sometimes there is not just one truth,’ and in statistics, that’s OK.

“We call this ‘productive struggle.’ Provided that their quantitative skills and study habits improve, it’s worth spending the time,” he says. “It’s worth the struggle.”

Generally, students enrolled in Stat 96A/B will not continue on in math or science. Even so, they learn basic algebra skills, quantitative reasoning skills and how get inference with the data, all of which will be helpful for the rest of their lives.

Sacramento State has teamed up with other CSU schools participating in (or at least trying out) Statway – San Jose State, CSU Northridge, San Francisco State and CSU East Bay – to customize the pedagogy for four-year schools. Two area community colleges, American River College and Cosumnes River College, also offer Statway courses.

“Students often will say, ‘This was a very hard concept,’ but they managed it and actually gained confidence,” says Cetin. “They knock on my door and say, ‘Professor, I am now in my major and actually using some statistics and research methods.’ At some point,” Cetin says, “they hated it, but they don’t give up, and they do it.”

For media assistance, contact Sacramento State’s Office of Public Affairs at (916) 278-6156.

– Dixie Reid
dixie.reid@csus.edu