Passing remedial mathematics has been described as the single largest academic barrier to college students’ success in the United States. Our research, using a randomized controlled trial at three community colleges of The City University of New York, demonstrated that students assessed as needing remedial mathematics (elementary algebra) were more likely to pass a college-level, credit-bearing introductory statistics course with extra support (a weekly workshop; 56% pass rate) than traditional elementary algebra (39% pass rate), or than that course with extra support (a weekly workshop; 45% pass rate). We randomly assigned a total of 907 students to one of these three course types in the summer of 2013; 717 of these students began their assigned courses the following fall. Twelve full-time faculty taught one section of each of the three course types, balancing instructor across course type. The differences in the pass rates are significant using standard t tests, as well as using Intent to Treat (ITT) and Treatment on Compliers (TOC) analyses. Students who passed statistics were exempt from any remedial mathematics courses and also satisfied their colleges’ core (general education) quantitative requirement. Statistics students attended class more often and showed a greater increase in liking for mathematics during the experiment. In contrast, although they had participated in summer orientation sessions, students who were randomly assigned to elementary algebra with weekly workshops were less likely to attend college in the fall than were students in the other two groups (Logue, Watanabe-Rose, & Douglas, 2015). Follow-up data have shown that students who were assigned to the statistics group have continued to accumulate more credits than students in the two elementary algebra groups. Together the results suggest that students assessed as needing remedial mathematics will be more likely to attend college, take and pass quantitative courses, accumulate credits (and thus graduate), and enjoy quantitative subjects, if they are assigned to college-level introductory statistics with extra support rather than to a remedial mathematics course. Even students intending to major in a field that requires college algebra may benefit from taking statistics prior to elementary algebra, because most students do not pass elementary algebra and taking it does not appear to be a very motivating experience. Finally, these results also indicate that it is not necessary to complete remedial elementary algebra prior to taking—and passing—college-level introductory statistics. In addition to regularly placing students into statistics rather than remedial mathematics, one of the policy implications of these results is that colleges should clearly define, streamline, and align their required quantitative skills. We will discuss what types of additional information and evidence may be needed to effect such policy changes, as well as some obstacles to making those changes.
Logue, A. W., Watanabe-Rose, M., & Douglas, D. (2015). Elementary algebra or statistics: A randomized controlled trial with students assessed as needing remedial mathematics. Paper submitted for publication.