CSUMB focuses on cross-school collaboration to boost student success.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
It takes an energetic presence to keep a classroom crammed with 90 remedial math students engaged. Fortunately Hongde Hu, chair of CSU-Monterey Bay’s Department of Math and Statistics, has the energy of 10 teenagers.
On a recent Friday morning in the university’s Chapman Science Center, Hu’s animated approach holds the attention of most of the freshmen in the room. True, they’ve got an incentive to succeed: If they don’t pass this prerequisite course, they’ll be disenrolled.
The math “boot camp,” which brings CSUMB students up to speed in the skills they’ll need for first-year coursework, has an impressive success rate. Ninety-two percent of students passed the course this year, up from 72 percent in 2007, the program’s first year.
Hu says his approach, which integrates games, tablet technology and copious student participation, is based not only on his love of math, but also on innovative teaching techniques he’s developed in conjunction with faculty at local community colleges and high schools.
“We’re developing approaches that motivate students and go beyond memorization,” Hu says.
Collaborations between the faculties of CSUMB, Cabrillo College and Hartnell College aim to develop common standards and tools to reduce the percentage of students who come to CSUMB still needing math and English help.
Currently, 45 percent of CSUMB’s nearly 1,050 freshmen enroll in the university’s remedial courses. That’s surprising given that the state’s high school students, including those in Monterey County, have made steady gains in standardized test scores over the past five years.
Remedial courses cost CSUMB $360,000 per year, according to provost Kathy Cruz-Uribe.
The tri-school effort is funded by a three-year, $500,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation, whose stated goal is to increase the percentage of U.S. students with post-secondary degrees from 25 to 60 percent by 2025.
Faculty from the three schools have been meeting since spring 2010. Ken Rand, the math department head at Hartnell, says the focus of the workshops has been student engagement. “The more I talk, the less [the students] learn,” he says.
Many students’ academic difficulties start in high school, if not long before.
“We go back to high schools and say, ‘Here’s what we want students to be prepared to do,’” says Ronnie Higgs, CSUMB’s vice president of student affairs. “Then the teachers need to sculpt the curriculum so students can succeed.”
Jennifer Fletcher, who teaches developmental writing courses at CSUMB, works with teachers in some of the county’s lowest-performing school districts to improve student performance. “We often start by looking at differences between college-level and high-school texts,” she says. “We try to develop cross-curricular academic literacy.”
The program is only two years old, so comprehensive results aren’t in. But Megan Muñoz, a math teacher at King City High School, says her students’ passing rates on assessment tests has jumped from 9 percent to 19 percent in the two years she’s worked with Fletcher. “It’s been invaluable,” she says.
A passing rate under 20 percent, however, indicates there’s a lot of work still to be done.
“Only good things can happen when teachers come together and talk about how to help students learn,” Rand says.