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Developmental,
Quantitative Literacy,
and Precalculus
Programs
Bonnie Gold
Department of Mathematics
Monmouth University
West Long Branch, NJ
bgold@monmouth.edu
F
rom an assessment perspective, developmental, quanti
tative literacy, and precalculus 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 creditbearing 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.
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 Summer '11
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