Press Release

August 2021

New Research Finds Progress and Roadblocks in Implementing California College Math Reforms

BERKELEY, CALIF.—Some colleges in California are making significant progress on reforming mathematics education by implementing strategies shown to improve math outcomes, including for students who are traditionally underrepresented. Yet additional steps are needed to close equity gaps at postsecondary institutions, according to a new report from Just Equations, a policy institute focused on expanding math opportunity.

Solving For Equity in Practice: New Insights on Advancing College Math Opportunity and Success explores how college and university professionals analyze and address the equity implications of redesigned math pathways to ensure that all students can access rigorous and relevant college-level math courses. The report examines six California postsecondary institutions that have demonstrated early momentum in implementing math reforms, synthesizing key learning from interviews with both practitioners and students.

Solving for Equity in Practice highlights strategies that are improving math outcomes. These math reforms include replacing prerequisite remedial courses with corequisite courses and other forms of concurrent support, as well as offering rigorous math course options aligned with students’ field of study. For example, students pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field take courses leading to Calculus, whereas students with other majors might choose statistics or quantitative reasoning courses to meet their math requirements.

“California colleges and universities continue demonstrating their commitment to improving math education and removing obstacles that have disproportionately impacted our most marginalized students,” said Pamela Burdman, executive director of Just Equations. “Postsecondary institutions in California are paving the way for students to make the best math enrollment decisions and must continue to do the critical work to eliminate education equity gaps.”

Solving for Equity in Practice also highlights additional opportunities for   colleges to eliminate equity gaps. Though college professionals interviewed noted the importance of equitable classroom practices, the research revealed that colleges have more work to do to adopt inclusive practices that cultivate student’s math identities. The interviews also  underscored a fundamental concern about ensuring that traditionally underrepresented students were actively supported and encouraged to enter STEM fields. Students echoed this concern, noting in interviews that they needed earlier guidance to understand their career and major choices.

“Work to solve equity will remain unfinished unless colleges double down on efforts to adopt culturally responsive and relevant classroom practices,” said Rogéair D. Purnell, education researcher and lead author of the report. “Given the history of racial and gender exclusion in STEM fields, we need to create more equitable opportunities for all students so they can reach their full academic potential.”

Interviews revealed four characteristics of colleges’ equity mindsets:

  • A commitment to proactively understanding and meeting each student’s needs, both academic and nonacademic, to ensure student success
  • A sense of responsibility for creating and sustaining a college culture that is student centered and equity driven
  • Prioritization of equitable practices in the classroom
  • The use of data and feedback from students to design reforms, assess their effectiveness, and inform future efforts

Solving For Equity in Practice summarizes the perspectives of 27 college professionals, including administrators and faculty, as well as 50 students who participated in interviews or focus groups for the report, from Citrus College, Cuyamaca College, Los Medanos College, Pasadena City College, Porterville College and San Diego State University. The report provides recommendations on how to advance math equity at colleges and universities, including: adopting a clear equity vision that incorporates race-specific efforts; fostering a culture of inquiry; promoting inclusive learning environments; and providing effective guidance for all students.

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