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SXU Takes Innovative Approach to Eliminating Developmental Math


When Saint Xavier University (SXU) faculty and staff reviewed institutional data that revealed a concerning trend in the successful completion of first-year college mathematics courses, they knew they needed to take an innovative approach to improve degree progression for students who didn't test into college-level math.  

Though developmental education was devised within higher learning institutions to help underprepared students grow academically before being placed into college-level courses, in recent years, data has revealed that developmental students often face barriers to degree completion.  

As the team assessed the data, they discovered that the single biggest indicator of student retention was whether students completed the University's math requirement by the end of their first year.  

Jumping into action, the team worked to address best practices in mathematical pedagogy, examining better approaches to student placement, including pathways to placement that were less dependent on a high-stakes exam (particularly one that over-placed minority students in developmental math). Being mindful of which programs were more algebra-dependent and which were better suited for a statistics course, they considered scheduling logistics, professional development for faculty, the nuances of a math bootcamp, and how they would evaluate effectiveness.  

After receiving a Department of Education Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM grant (P031C210201) designed to remove barriers to academic success, the University utilized funding to secure the help of a consultant who shared best practices. The team examined potential infrastructure barriers and placement protocols and implemented an alternative model: an approach to math that was not exam-dependent with a redesigned curriculum, professional development opportunities for math faculty, and courses with built-in supplemental labs and bootcamp options for students placed into a corequisite course.  

The math bootcamp consists of a four-day experience where students spend each day with a rigid focus on various expressions, equations and operations, progressively working their way through a curriculum designed to prepare them for re-taking the placement exam, which determines whether they can enroll into a standard 100-level math course.  

Within two years, the University was able to completely eliminate its reliance on developmental math, four years ahead of schedule. Initial findings revealed a 75-80% pass rate for students in algebra and statistics corequisite classes compared to a previous pass rate of below 50%, with early data showing higher success rates among all students.  

"Our team has long recognized that the failure to complete a college-level math course by the end of their first year places students at greater risk for attrition, interrupting their college dreams. As a Catholic, Mercy institution, we recognize the intrinsic dignity of every student as well as their ability to learn, and our success with math grounds us in the vision of our founding Sisters of Mercy, which encouraged an equitable and inclusive learning environment," said Gina Rossetti, interim dean of SXU's College of Liberal Arts and Education.

Course evaluations completed by students are encouraging, with many affirming the program has provided them with the experience and support they need for college readiness and success.  

Leveraging the success of the Math Success Project and to continue the upward trend of ensuring students' college readiness and success, the University is examining whether there are similar barriers in coursework preparation for biology, chemistry and nursing majors.  

The goal is to design corequisite support that addresses challenging, course-specific content as well as necessary skills and their use within the programs. The team hopes to introduce co-curricular activities such as supplemental instruction, mentorship, internships, research opportunities, community-building, and support among SXU students.  

In creating innovative ways to overcome challenging barriers to student success, Saint Xavier continues to work toward creating truly transformative educational experiences for students.