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Fewer students need it

Theoretically, WSU students do not need remedial or precollege mathematics instruction because they learned everything in high school that they need to be ready for university mathematics courses.

Practically, however, some students need help to meet WSU’s increasingly stringent math proficiency requirements.

The good news is that there are fewer students who require those precollege courses, according to Alan Genz, who chaired the Mathematics Department from 2000 to August 2006, when he returned to faculty status.

“WSU is increasing its requirements and our students are coming in better prepared,” he said. “Our freshmen are doing better at math now.”

Comparing enrollments in the precollege math courses in the fall semesters of 2002 and 2006 indicates that in the last four years the number of students taking remedial math courses has dropped by more than half. In fall 2002, 780 students took a precollege math course. In fall 2006, 337 are taking a similar class.

The comparison is not exact, however, since the available remedial courses are different, shifting from WSU-taught courses to classes taught by the Community Colleges of Spokane on the Pullman campus. The fall enrollment numbers also do not reflect the total number of freshmen taking remedial classes, since students may take the courses online, from another community college, or during the spring semester, said Jane Sherman, associate vice provost for academic affairs.

Sherman does agree that remedial math enrollment is dropping: “Over the past few years, our freshmen have been increasingly well prepared and fewer are testing into the lower-level math classes.”

That shift really began about a decade ago when successful completion of the math placement exam was required of all students, Genz said. In the past, some advisers had allowed students to enroll in math courses without passing the placement test.
The result of the requirement was an increase in the number of students taking the university’s remedial or precollege courses, Math 100, Math 101 and Math 103. This requirement resulted in higher success rates in the math classes that the students needed for graduation.

However, as more college students took those remedial courses, the state Legislature made it clear that using college resources to teach high-school level math was not a good idea. WSU responded by seeking a community-college partner to provide remedial math instruction on campus and by dropping its own precollege math courses, Sherman said.

In August 2004, the Institute of Extended Learning, operated by the Community Colleges of Spokane, opened a site on the Pullman campus. The Institute’s Math Learning Program is located in WSU’s Math Learning Annex, the building near Daggy Hall that formerly housed the Office of Multicultural Student Services.

Institute faculty includes seven teachers and 10 WSU students who serve as peer tutors. Susan Schroeder is the program coordinator. She said the institute offers three math classes: Math 90 (basic), Math 91 (introduction to algebra), and Math 99 (intermediate algebra). The number of courses students take depends on their placement test score.

“Most students only take Math 99,” Schroeder said. “In most cases, they have to take this course because they completed their high school math requirement as juniors and did not take any math as seniors — and so they forgot it by the time of the math placement exam.

“It’s ‘use it or lose it’ with math skills, too.”

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