“I spend a lot of time helping my students overcome their feelings of frustration with math,” said Yancey, the IUPUI teacher. “They think something is wrong with their brain.”
Myriad solutions have been proposed to advance students’ math skills — if not change their perceptions about math — but there seems to be no simple answer.
In 2010, Indiana signed on to the Common Core State Standards, a set of K-12 academic standards in reading and math that aim to improve college readiness. Though 45 states have adopted the standards, the initiative has stalled in Indiana due to opponents who called Common Core a federal takeover of education.
Also stalled is the initiative adopted last year by the Legislature, which voted to require high schools to offer remedial instruction to juniors who did not meet math standards.
Additionally, there’s been a push by state education officials to require students to take four years of math, up from the current three-year requirement. That effort has significant support, fueled by evidence gathered by the state Commission for Higher Education: Of students who take four years of high school math to earn the state’s Academic Honors diploma, only 7 percent need remedial coursework in college. That’s compared to the 41 percent of students earning the standard, college-preparatory diploma, known as Core 40, who need remediation.
Nationally, Jones’ Complete College America advocates a nuanced approach to placing new college students in remedial courses. Instead of using high-stakes exams that can be poor predictors of college readiness, Jones said the better approach is to apply a range of scores from placement tests to identify students who can begin credit-earning courses with support from tutors or more frequent class meetings.
Jones’ group also recommends doing away with a standard college algebra requirement and instead tailoring math classes to a student’s area of study. Students studying psychology — like Brittany Crider — would benefit from classes focused on statistics.