Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Improving Success in Developmental Mathematics: An Interview with Paul Nolting

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Improving Success in Developmental Mathematics: An Interview with Paul Nolting

Article excerpt

Dr. Paul Nolting is a national expert in assessing individual math learning problems, developing effective student learning strategies, and assessing institutional variables that affect math success. Since his dissertation in 1986 on improving math success with study skills he has consulted with over 100 college, university, and high school campuses on math success. He has written journal articles; consulted on Quality Enhancement Plans; conducted live PBS and other broadcasts; presented at numerous national conferences; and written several texts, tutor manuals, handbooks, DVDs, and computer assessment programs to improve math success. His Winning at Math text won book of the year award from the National Association of Independent Publishers for best text of the association and is the only research-based math study skills text published in the U.S. He is employed at the State College of Florida in Bradenton, FL and has been an institutional test administrator, learning specialist, director of Title HI Programs, Student Support Services director, and disability coordinator. He has also been a graduate school adjunct instructor at the University of South Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University. His life has been dedicated to improving the success of math students.

Hunter Boylan (H.B.): According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2003), more college students place into developmental mathematics than any other subject area in developmental education. Why do you think so many incoming students place into developmental math?

Paul Nolting (P.N.): First, it is important to define developmental math. The levels of developmental math courses can be different, depending on the state, college, or university. Usually there are only two levels of developmental English and reading, but there could be four or even five levels of developmental math, making it more likely for students to be placed into developmental math. Placement test scores can also vary from college to college and state to state. This means that in one state or college a test score places students into a college-level course and in another college or state the same score would put them into a developmental course.

One reason that many students are placed into developmental math is that cut scores for college-level math may be higher than for college-level reading and English. For example if the ACT cut score to be placed into college level math is 20 and the ACT cut score to be placed into college-level English is 17 and reading is 18, then institutions would likely have more students in developmental math.

In addition, the amount of elapsed time since a student has taken their last math course has significant consequences on placement into college-level math courses. Think of math as a foreign language: If you do not use it, you will lose it. However, even after completing high school English or courses that required reading, students still use those skills in everyday life. In almost every case this is not true for math. The delay between taking the last math course and taking the placement test has a significant influence on math placement scores. This delay could be caused by taking the last math course in the junior year; also, returning students who have not taken math in many years will lose most of their algebra knowledge and some of their arithmetic skills due to calculators, cell phones, and other technology. For example, students are using calculators, math functions, and web accesses on their cell phones to solve arithmetic problems such as multiplication, calculating tips, and algebra problems by putting formulas into math solving web sites. Also, in many cases calculators have taken the place of memorizing math facts, resulting in decreased automaticity of generating math facts and solving problems with pencil and paper. However, during the ACCUPLACER and COMPASS placement tests used by many community colleges, students are not allowed to use calculators or cell phones to solve problems. …

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