A Call to Action to Improve Math Placement Policies and Processes

This call to action is based on a simple but important premise: The nation cannot allow placement policies, processes, and instruments to undermine promising efforts to increase student success in mathematics and increase attainment of STEM credentials. Efforts to redesign math pathways hold great promise for improving the teaching and learning experiences of students who need college algebra—many of whom are STEM students—and helping those students persist toward and maintain STEM aspirations. But placement policies, processes, and instruments have not kept pace with math redesign efforts.

The nation needs more students prepared for STEM jobs—particularly low-income students, students of color, and underprepared students who historically have not had equitable access to preparation for and on-ramps to well-paying, dynamic STEM careers. To meet this need, mathematics course pathways must be a lever for helping students maintain and even increase their STEM aspirations. At the moment, however, far too many math courses—especially developmental math courses—serve as a serious obstacle and even deterrent to STEM-interested students seeking STEM credentials.

In response, many colleges and state policymakers are creating differentiated developmental and gateway math pathways. The goal is to target the math needs of particular academic programs and then improve teaching, learning, and support in those differentiated math classes. In the end, s tudents who need algebra—many of whom are STEM students—will be in a redesigned math class better customized to their needs. Similarly, students in programs that do not require college algebra can take an alternative pathway— such as statistics or quantitative reasoning—that is better suited to their programs’ needs.

Many colleges and states are implementing differentiated math pathways, but placement policies, processes, and supports have not kept up with the pace of change. As a result, students are being placed into math classes through methods that do not align with the content of, or that do no t effectively predict or support success in, differentiated math pathways. Some of the workarounds in place may in fact be closing the door to STEM opportunities for students.

This call to action is designed to encourage states and colleges to analyze and revise their math placement policies, processes, and supports to ensure that STEM-interested students are properly placed into an onramp leading to well-taught math courses that maintain—and even increase—their STEM aspirations

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