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UTPA plan to enhance student success in developmental math courses reaping positive results
Posted: 12/05/2008
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Thanks to a model plan at The University of Texas-Pan American designed to enhance student success in math, freshman Randy Barrera, who "hates math with a passion," will now have a better chance to conquer this challenge to graduating and pursuing his career choice of nursing.

Barrera is among hundreds of "math-challenged" students who have benefitted from interventions in a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) first initiated in September 2007 to help students pass non-credit developmental math courses they are required to pass if they do not meet minimum college math readiness standards set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Dr. Olga Ramírez, UTPA math professor and QEP interim project administrator, said the QEP proposal was based on statistics that showed one of the greatest factors for the 75 percent of Mexican-American students at UTPA who failed to complete their college education was the failure to pass these courses. The pass rate in MATH 1300 (Elementary Algebra) and MATH 1334 (Intermediate Algebra) has only been 40 percent over the past five years but Ramirez said an October 2008 assessment of the QEP's first year pilot program showed promising results.

The student assistants pictured above have played a significant role in helping to improve the pass rate of students who have taken QEP developmental math courses first initiated in fall 2007 at UTPA.
"The recent assessment indicates a 61 percent pass rate at the end of spring 2008 for those completing all three modules of MATH 1300 developed as part of the QEP. This compares to a 27.6 percent pass rate for the non-QEP MATH 1300 students during the same semester. In addition, the level of satisfaction for the QEP interventions indicated by students increased from 75 percent in fall 2007 to 91 percent in spring 2008," Ramírez said.

The QEP is a plan designed to enhance student learning required as part of UTPA's recent reaccreditation process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Titled "Gear Up to Graduate: A Model for Success in Gatekeeper Mathematics Courses for Mexican-American, First Generation University Students," the QEP incorporated learning enhancements in three areas - curriculum, student support, and professional development. Two key areas of change were the modularization of the course content into three separate modules or units and the addition of student assistants and tutoring to help students with coursework both in and outside the classroom.

"This class is different," said Barrera, who has passed his first two modules in MATH 1300 this fall semester. "In this class I have the security of a student assistant to help me out with my questions. I love the way it is taught because it's basic and simple which is the way I like it. The student assistants are amazing; they really help me out with my homework and studying for tests."

Students can pass the course when they pass the three modules and a department final exam with an average of 70 or more. A student can repeat each of the three modules up to three times. Once they pass MATH 1300 and MATH 1334, which was first taught with QEP interventions in fall 2008, students can enroll in MATH 1340 or another core curriculum math course that provides credits toward graduation.

To further enhance the math curriculum, the QEP also placed greater emphasis on relational and collaborative learning instituting a fourth hour of instruction and a discussion session each week where students work in groups on a discussion worksheet on various math topics. Common standards for module exams, discussion worksheets, attendance, quizzes and homework were also established. In addition, faculty, student assistants and tutors undergo professional development and training prior to teaching and/or assisting students in QEP math classes.

One of 16 student assistants, Flor Rodriguez said their duties include attending all of the four classes each week, helping to collect and grade homework, assisting with a weekly worksheet discussion session and being available two hours a week for tutoring sessions. She said students really appreciate having the assistants available during the class to help them learn the information and reinforce the professor's techniques for solving problems.

"They (students) say in a regular classroom they feel more intimidated and that if they have a question on something they do not feel confident enough to ask questions, so they become lost. Once that occurs they are rarely able to catch up," she said.

Math faculty has also been pleased with the QEP interventions. Dr. Cristina Villalobos, associate professor of math, taught one of the pilot program QEP MATH 1334 classes. She said the modularization format requires students to master content in each module before they can go on to the next which decreases their discouragement.

"Modularization of the course content also allows constant assessment. I know the progress of each of my students and I work hard, along with the student assistant, to get them to make sense of the material," she said.

Ramírez said in the recent evaluation, they also found the completion of the University's Learning Frameworks course (UNIV 1301) had a positive effect on pass rates of those students taking MATH 1300. Learning Frameworks is a required course for incoming freshmen that focuses on how people learn, what motivates them and the skills necessary to be successful in college and one's career. The course also introduces students to campus resources and information as well as the University's goals and the academic programs available.

"When all the conditions are held the same, the odds of passing the MATH 1300 class (QEP and non-QEP) for a student who passed Learning Frameworks is about 11 times greater than the odds of students who failed the Learning Frameworks class," Ramírez said.

The University will continue to evaluate and refine the QEP at the end of each semester. Ramirez indicated that the goal is to reach at least a 70 percent pass rate in MATH 1300 and a 60 percent pass rate in MATH 1334 by the third year of the project. SACS will review the QEP's implementation and success by 2012.

For more information, contact the QEP Project Office at 956/381-2264 or e-mail Ramirez at >oram@utpa.edu.