Dr. Lee Pearce
 Dr. Kristi Pearce
 Dr. Curtis Card
 Dr. Daluss Siewert
A team of Black Hills State University professors have developed a new multi-tiered model for math instruction that identifies struggling students earlier with an ultimate goal of getting them a college diploma.

“There is a lot we can do to improve upon instruction and retain these struggling students through graduation,” said Dr. Lee Pearce, principal investigator for the BHSU developmental math research team. The more than three-year long project has already yielded positive results. From 2009 to 2012, pass rates for basic algebra have almost doubled, while success in Intermediate algebra is similar.

Now, the research team, with the help of a National Science Foundation grant, is measuring the new multi-tiered system of support on student outcomes in and beyond basic and intermediate algebra – student persistence to and success in college algebra, passing the math section of the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP), and obtaining a college degree.

Dr. Lee Pearce and Dr. Kristi Pearce, professor emeritus, recently presented the research team’s year one results from the project in San Diego at the annual joint Mathematical Association of America/American Mathematical Society conference. 

National studies continue to find that graduating with a college degree results in improved personal, economic and social outcomes; however, 28 percent of students entering college are enrolled in remedial math courses, Lee Pearce said.

Students who require developmental math courses also record some of the highest failure rates preventing them from obtaining a college degree, Lee Pearce said

In the evaluation model, the research team is looking at learning behaviors (e.g., attendance, homework, self direction), student attributes, (e.g., math anxiety, math confidence) and teaching behaviors, such as explicit instruction and formative assessment, and how it relates to student success.  The purpose is to identify students who are struggling within the developmental math course as early as possible within the semester and provide additional instructional support.

“We are in the process of developing systems to identify struggling students in the classroom as soon as they experience difficulties,” Pearce said.

National data indicates the economic outcomes for students who successfully complete developmental math courses are similar to those students not placed in remedial courses, Pearce said. However, only 25 percent of those students enrolled in developmental education successfully complete the program, leaving 75 percent of the students unable to access the benefits a college degree offers, putting them at a disadvantage from their diploma-holding counterparts, he said.

That 75 percent is group the research team is aiming to help.  

The research team will be tracking 800-900 students throughout the two-year NSF grant. So far, they have collected data on 400 students.  

The initial project began in 2009 when Dr. Curtis Card, associate professor of mathematics and now associate vice president of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Daluss Siewert, professor of mathematics and chair of the School of Mathematics and Social Sciences, addressing the high failure rates for students in developmental math, began redesigning the instructional structure to improve student performance and persistence throughout the developmental math coursework.  In 2010, Dr. Lee Pearce joined them to quantify the processes and outcomes that influence improved developmental math pass rates while expanding the project to identify and test additional instructional supports based on scientifically research-based educational practices.  For the NSF grant, Dr. Kristi Pearce, professor emeritus, is measuring the response of students, math mentors and instructors to the new teaching and learning model.

Within the new multi-tiered model, students who experience difficulty during the course are identified through formative assessment and subsequently receive assistance based on individual need through Tier II and Tier III levels of support.  This instructional support occurs outside of the classroom and is designed to assist students in passing each learning outcome as well as offering a second chance to pass a failed unit.

Pearce said the teaching method follows an explicit instruction process where the instructor clearly outlines the learning outcomes and offers clear explanations and demonstrations of the math skill presented.   Additional support outside of class is provided as needed in the Math Assistance Center.   

The research team continually collects data to evaluate short and long term outcomes at the student and program level, and uses this information to drive decisions regarding curriculum and instructional improvements.  Pearce noted “We are attempting to track every instructional moment within the classrooms.” 

The model is specifically focused on developmental math; however, the research team will also consider whether replicating the model in college algebra and other math courses is likely to yield benefits, and whether the model has broad applicability to other STEM disciplines.