'Adding It Up' Part 1: 'The Hurdle of Remedial Math at a Community College'

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Community colleges serve almost half of all college students in the nation. Graduation rates are low, hovering around 30% after 3 years, and a majority of students need remedial help, especially in math. This is the case in New York City where community colleges are seeing a huge influx of new students. This semester, WNYC’s Beth Fertig is visiting a remedial class at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, to see why math is such an obstacle.

Listen to Part 1:

Hear more voices and see some of the students here.

About Remedial Math

So what is remedial math? Community college students at the City University of New York wind up in remedial math when they fail an assessment test called COMPASS. Incoming students who scored at least a 75 on their high school Math Regents, or above a 480 on their Math SAT, are exempt from taking this assessment. Students who have previous degrees are also exempt.

Community colleges often refer to remedial courses as “developmental education” classes. There are two levels of developmental math at LaGuardia Community College. The lower level (Math 095) includes signed numbers, fractions, decimals, percents, basic geometry and some algebra. It’s about the same level as middle school math and it’s intended for students with little or no algebra background. The second level (Math 096) is considered “a careful treatment of elementary algebra” and covers ninth and tenth grade math. For those who don't remember, that's graphing, linear equations, functional concepts, rules of exponents, factoring, and complex fractions. Students use a textbook which is also available online. There are online homework assignments and quizzes in addition to those in class.

This report was compiled with assistance from the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University.