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Tennessee Board of Regents: Developmental Studies Redesign Initiative

Cleveland State Community College

Course Title: Basic Math, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra
Contact: Karen Wyrick

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Project Abstract

Cleveland State Community College (CSCC) plans to redesign a sequence of three developmental mathematics courses: Basic Math, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra. These courses are offered primarily in the traditional lecture format, enrolling over 1200 students annually with ~200 in Basic Math, ~500 in Elementary Algebra, and ~500 in Intermediate Algebra.

The traditional developmental math courses at CSCC suffer from the common problem of low success rates. Drop-Failure-Withdrawal (DFW) rates average 45% in these courses. Elementary Algebra presents the biggest obstacle to student success, often having DFW rates of more than 50%. A video-taped section of Basic Math and the fully online sections of Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra average a 60% to 70% failure rate. Developmental math courses often represent a roadblock to the success of individual students, standing in the way of earning a college degree.

CSCC will redesign these courses using the Emporium Model. Students will meet one hour in class and two hours in a large computer lab. The one-hour class meetings will be held in small computer labs to allow students to work online; instructors will provide individual student assistance and review student progress. The large computer lab will be available 54 hours per week to allow students to work at their convenience. Course material will be organized into modules, which students will complete at the rate of one or more each week. All homework and testing will be done online. Students who complete a developmental math course before the end of the term will be allowed to begin the next developmental course immediately. Registration in these courses will be flexible throughout the semester in order to maximize student success.

The redesigned courses will enhance the students' educational experience, making them active and engaged learners and improving their success rates. Online testing will give students immediate feedback, minimizing down time in the course and maximizing time on task. Continuous assessment using low-stakes quizzes will help students focus on the areas that need improvement. Faculty will have a greater ability to monitor student progress and provide appropriate individual instruction and assistance. The redesign will lead to greater course consistency; consequently, students will be better prepared for subsequent math courses.

Student learning outcomes will be assessed by comparing common content items from selected departmental final exams in the traditional format during AY 2007-2008 to the redesigned sections in fall 2008. Average completion rates and grade distributions from 2002-2007 will be compared to data from the redesigned sections. Student success in follow-on courses will also be tracked.

The cost of the three developmental courses will be reduced by eliminating 10 adjuncts. The use of technology will decrease the amount of course preparation and delivery time spent by full-time faculty members on these courses. The traditional cost-per-student ranging from $236 to $208 in the three courses will decrease to a range of $184 to $167, an overall reduction of about 19%. The redesign will generate more than $58,000 in savings annually. Additional savings are anticipated from reducing copying costs by $5,000 and from replacing two full-time faculty members when they retire with math lab personnel. Following the initial redesign of the three developmental math courses, CSCC plans to redesign three college-level courses: College Algebra, Finite Math and Introductory Statistics, which will produce an additional annual savings of approximately $29,000. Savings will remain in the department to make changes and improvements in the courses as needed.

Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Impact on Students

Improved Learning

Student performance significantly improved in Basic Math, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra as measured by performance on common exam items.

Previous Years
Spring 2008
Fall 2008
Spring 2009
Basic Math
Elementary Algebra


Intermediate Algebra


Improved Retention

Course completion rates (grades of C or better) improved significantly in two of the three courses:

  • The completion rate for Elementary Algebra increased from 50% before the redesign to 68% after the redesign.
  • The completion rate for Intermediate Algebra increased from 57% before the redesign to 74% after the redesign.

The success rate in Basic Math increased to 65% during the fall 2008 semester but returned to the historical average of 50% during the spring 2009 semester. Basic Math still suffers from high failure rates, and the team intends to address problems in the course to improve student success in the future.

Other Impacts on Students

  • Changes in student attitudes. Student attitudes were noticeably different under the redesign. Math anxiety and testing anxiety all but disappeared.
  • Mobility within the developmental math sequence. Mobility within developmental math was also a goal of the redesign project. Students could begin a new course in the midst of a current semester, complete as much of it as possible and continue on with the same course in the next semester. The continuous enrollment approach of the math department has been a success. Fifty students completed two or more developmental math courses in one semester. Thirteen students completed Intermediate Algebra and a college-level math class in the same semester. Two students completed three courses in one semester. The ability of students to move quickly through the developmental math program has been achieved.
  • Increased number of students passing a developmental math course. The number of students who passed a developmental math course increased by 29%. In previous years, 657 of 1,234 students (54%) passed at least one developmental course compared with 845 of 1,201 students (70%) in AY 2008-2009.
  • Increased number of students exiting the developmental math program. The number of students exiting the developmental math program increased by 32%. In previous years, 330 of 595 students (55%) exited the program compared with 436 of 591 students (74%) in AY 2008-2009.
  • Increased number of students enrolled in college-level math courses. The number of students enrolling in college-level math courses increased by 42% in spring 2009 over previous spring semesters. The reason for this increase is simple: students exiting developmental math increased by 47% in fall 2008, so more students were eligible to take a college-level math course.
  • Increased number of developmental students successfully completed a college-level course. The percentage of developmental math students successfully completing a college-level math course increased from 71% before the redesign to 76% after the redesign, and their average course GPA increased from 2.41 to 2.89. This is one of the most important measures of success for any developmental math program. Given the higher success rates in the developmental math program under redesign, one might expect students to do worse in college-level math courses, but just the opposite has been true. The redesign appears to be doing a better job of preparing students for college-level courses. The reasons can be traced to the amount of work the students are doing under the redesign and the mastery learning approach in which students must master all of the concepts in the developmental math program. Students are better prepared for college as a result of the redesign project.
  • Increase in overall college retention. Overall college retention increased by 7% in spring 2009. Much of this can be directly attributed to the increased success rates of the developmental math program. With a 33% increase in students passing a college-level math course in AY 2008–2009, the long term impact on the college’s retention and graduation rates are obvious. The success of the redesign project cannot be overstated. Students did better in both developmental math and college level math, benefiting both the students in those courses and the college as a whole.

Impact on Cost Savings

Significant cost savings have been realized as a result of the redesign project. In the traditional model, Cleveland State offered 55 24-student sections in fall and spring, 45 of which were taught by full-time faculty at a cost of $256,275 and 10 by adjuncts at a cost of $14,400. The total cost of the traditional course was $270,625.

In the redesigned model, Cleveland State offered 77 18-student sections in fall and spring, all of which were taught by FT faculty at a cost of $219,258. The total cost savings was $51,418 or 19%. This is a significant cost savings at a small college like Cleveland State with a math department of eight faculty members and one staff member.

Faculty productivity has risen by 23%. The average student load per faculty member went from 106 to 130, and the FTE teaching load per faculty member went from 21.2 to 26.0. Faculty used to teach five sections per semester. In the redesigned environment, faculty members will teach 10-11 sections, which means that they will handle 150+ students each semester, and work 8–10 hours in the lab.

The personnel mix of the department has also shifted. Increased faculty productivity has enabled the department to eliminate the use of adjunct instructors while increasing course offerings. Overloads have also been reduced as a result of the redesign project. One faculty member retired and was replaced with a staff member. Also, a full-time lab person in Cleveland left and was replaced with part-time math lab tutors. These shifts in personnel not only saved money but also proved to work better in staffing the lab and serving student needs. Other savings include less copying due to online homework and testing.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

  • Keeping students on task. Having students work in both the classroom and the lab proved to be key to the success of the redesign project. Students worked in computer classrooms during the weekly one-hour class meetings, and they worked in the computer lab outside of class each week at their convenience. Students became fully engaged in their learning, which contributed to their improved success rate in the classes. Students spent approximately 19,000 hours in the Cleveland and Athens math labs, approximately 15,000 hours working in the classroom and logged thousands of additional hours at home. Students in the redesigned courses had to work harder than ever in order to be successful. Students became very accustomed to the redesign. They were completely on task in both the classroom and the math lab and focused on getting their work done.
  • Weekly assignments and quizzes. Cleveland State divided the content of the three developmental math courses into 32 mini-modules. The concept of the mini-module proved to be important in keeping students on task. Weekly homework assignments and quizzes kept the students working until they finished the course. Having deadlines of completing a module each week proved to be a very successful strategy for keeping students on task.
  • Online learning systems for grading and homework. The department utilized the MyMathLab online learning system, with online homework and testing providing instant feedback to students during their time in the class and the lab.

Cost Savings Techniques

  • Increase in instructors’ student load with no increase in workload. The redesign format allows one instructor to teach more students than were taught in the traditional format while decreasing class size. In the traditional format, each instructor taught five three-day-a-week sections with 24 students. In the redesigned format, that same instructor could teach ten sections of 18 students plus spend 8 - 10 hours tutoring in the lab. This could be accomplished because the class only met once a week and because no hand-grading was required.
  • Reinstating the one-room schoolhouse. Cleveland State now schedules more than one course in the same classroom at the same time when enrollment in the courses is small. The strategy has been used at the Cleveland campus during class times that have had historically low numbers. This new strategy will also enable the department to increase course offerings in several courses. This strategy has lead to an atmosphere of “math on demand,” where students can get their program needs met better than ever before. Students in the smaller Athens and Vonore campuses will be able to take courses that have never been offered at those campuses starting in fall 2009, which will reduce scheduling roadblocks for students and enable them to complete their degree requirements sooner.

Implementation Issues

  • Lab staffing. Staffing the Cleveland lab with five tutors and faculty members worked well. Also, one volunteer worked in the lab five to six hours each week. The team continues to explore ways to gain additional volunteers from the community and a local four-year college. The math lab has been added to the community service opportunities list at a local university. Also, working in the math lab is an option for students in service learning courses at Cleveland State. The department is optimistic the volunteer portion of the lab staff will expand slightly in future years. The staffing of the Athens lab with one staff member and faculty members was sufficient.
  • IT problems. During fall 2008, the department ran into several IT problems as the redesign was expanded to all three campuses. In spite of these problems, the students maintained a positive attitude and performed well in the courses.
  • Financial aid problems. Students with delays in financial aid fell behind in the course because they could not buy books and pay the fees associated with registering for the online learning system. This problem will be addressed as the department moves to implementing a lab fee for math courses and making textbooks completely optional. This will allow students to begin working on the first day of class and will eliminate the problem of students falling behind due to financial aid problems.
  • Adjustment period. Fall 2008 definitely proved to be a challenge for both students and faculty as the redesign was expanded from two developmental courses to three developmental and three college-level courses and from one campus to three campuses. Spring 2009 went much more smoothly as everyone adjusted to their new roles.


The project has been a resounding success. Due to the success of the project, the math department has continued to expand course redesign to include three college-level courses: College Algebra, Finite Math and Introductory Statistics. These redesigns have also achieved impressive results:

  • College Algebra. The course completion rate increased from an average of 65% over the past five years to 74% in fall 2008 and 79% in spring 2009. The course GPA increased from 2.26 over the past five years to 2.89 in fall 2008 and 3.07 in spring 2009, and the number of common test items answered correctly increased from 75.64% to 86.34 and 86.5%.
  • Finite Math. The course completion rate increased from an average of 75% over the past five years to 91% in fall 2008. This increase, while encouraging, is not as significant as it might appear. This is a low-enrollment course, with completion rates fluctuating between 70% and 90% in the past. This happens in low enrollment courses, since just a few students passing or failing can affect the success rate by as much as 10%. So, while the team is pleased with the success rate, the improvement should not be overstated. The course GPA increased from 2.53 over the past five years to 3.63 in fall 2008, and performance on common test Items increased from 82.1% to 87.5%. The increases in performance are most likely due to the increase in student engagement as well as the mastery approach that is used in all of the redesigned courses.
  • Introductory Statistics. The course GPA increased from 2.79 over the past five years to 3.04 in fall 2008, and performance on common test items increased from 79.6% to 83.3%. Given the expansion of the curriculum and greater difficulty of the course, it is safe to say these students learned more than students in past years. The course completion rate decreased from an average of 79% over the past five years to 76% in spring 2009. This was likely due to the course being strengthened in terms of an expanded curriculum and increased difficulty level under the redesign. Faculty members felt the course was significantly harder than it had been in previous years. None of the differences in student learning or success rates before redesign and after redesign are statistically significant. However, it is the consensus of the faculty that this course has been strengthened in content as a result of the redesign, so continued high success rates are encouraging.

Cleveland State also plans to redesign three additional courses and to implement those courses in fall 2009: Basic Calculus, Precalculus I and Precalculus II. Once these courses are offered under the new format, approximately 95% of the students at Cleveland State will be taking math courses in the redesigned format. John Squires, the project leader and math department chair, recognizes the advantages that can be realized when you look at department redesign as compared to course redesign. By including both college-level math courses and developmental math courses in the redesign, the department has been able to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Economies of scale are more easily realized the bigger the redesign project is. Also, redefining faculty roles and duties as Cleveland State has done is easier to do when the entire department and most of its course offerings are involved in the redesign.



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