gold1105-saum - F Assessment of Developmental, Quantitative...

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Developmental, Quantitative Literacy, and Precalculus Programs Bonnie Gold Department of Mathematics Monmouth University West Long Branch, NJ F rom an assessment perspective, developmental, quanti- tative literacy, and pre-calculus courses have many similarities and interrelationships. At many institu- tions, these courses constitute most of the department’s workload. They are not generally the courses in which most faculty members invest their greatest enthusiasm or con- cern: that is usually reserved for courses for mathematics majors (or perhaps, in universities with graduate programs, for graduate students). They are the least mathematically interesting courses we teach. Moreover, since they’re usual- ly filled with students who dislike and fear mathematics and would rather be anywhere except in mathematics class, these are often the most difficult and frustrating courses to teach. As a result, however, these are courses in which effective assessment can yield the greatest improvement in faculty working conditions as well as in student learning. If mathe- matics departments can turn these courses from ones stu- dents just muddle through into courses in which they grow in mathematical confidence and competence, these courses can become enjoyable and interesting to teach. Colleges and universities are under pressure to develop assessment programs primarily of two types: for majors (often including other subjects required by a major), and for general education. The latter emphasis often leads to requests to mathematics departments to assess quantitative literacy. Pressures to assess developmental mathematics programs, on the other hand, typically reflect concerns about finances or about rates of student progress toward graduation. If students must repeat developmental courses several times before succeeding, or if they pass the devel- opmental courses only to fail the credit-bearing courses for which they are prerequisites, students either graduate late or drop out entirely. Interactions among these programs There are no sharp boundaries between developmental, quantitative literacy, and precalculus courses. Some institu- tions require no mathematics; at some others, general edu- cation requirements are met by simply passing a placement exam or the developmental courses. Still others assume that adequate quantitative literacy skills will be developed through college algebra or precalculus courses. Often pre- calculus courses are directed at students planning to take calculus, but in fact are taken primarily to satisfy general education requirements. When this happens, faculty view the high DWF rate (D/Withdraw/Failure) in such courses as “casualties on the road to calculus.” In reality, few of these students were ever on that road. 29
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gold1105-saum - F Assessment of Developmental, Quantitative...

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