Addressing Barriers to Postsecondary Completion: Reimagining Mathematics Pathways

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Postsecondary degree attainment remains a top priority across the nation and in the State of Florida, as evidenced by Florida's SAIL to 60 initiative. Historically, postsecondary degree attainment among minority students has lagged behind attainment by their non-minority peers. Advancing Mathematics Pathways for Student Success (AMPSS), a national coalition to address undergraduate mathematics as an academic barrier for students pursuing degrees and credentials, stated in a recent report, “gateway and developmental mathematics courses pose the most significant academic barrier to postsecondary attainment for millions of students each year, especially those from underrepresented or non-traditional groups of college students” (AMPSS, 2017, p. 2). Recognizing the strength of Florida’s K-20 system and the need for education systems to work in concert with each other to address the fact that mathematics requirements serve as a significant barrier to student success, in 2018 the Florida Student Success Center (Center) launched the Florida Mathematics Re-Design Initiative.

The Dana Center Mathematics Pathways identified two structural drivers of the mathematics problem. First, mathematics courses sequences are too long such that they “underestimate the capability of students to learn mathematics and delay students’ engagement with college-level coursework” (Dana Center, 2016, p. 1). And, second, the content of entry-level mathematics courses may not be aligned to the needs of college students, in terms of both their fields of study and workforce aspirations.

Recognizing that mathematics requirements can serve as a significant barrier on a student’s academic pathway, the Center undertook mathematics re-design as its first primary initiative. The goal of Florida’s mathematics re-design work is to identify ways to create coherence in mathematics pathways, while providing support to institutions to develop scalable and sustainable mathematics practices that improve mathematics success for students across all educational systems.

At the onset of this work, the Student Success Center established three inter-connected workgroups composed of nearly 100 faculty, administrators and key stakeholders from Florida’s K-12 system, the Florida College System, and the State University System to identify current challenges in mathematics pathways and develop policy and practice recommendations to improve student achievement across education systems. The High School to Postsecondary Alignment workgroup was charged with examining how high school curriculum in mathematics aligns with postsecondary expectations; the Florida College System Mathematics Sequences workgroup was charged with examining multiple pathways for students to enter based on programs of study as well as the re-design of course structures (e.g., delivery, curriculum and pedagogy) to maximize support for students; and the Florida College System to University Alignment workgroup was charged with examining how FCS curriculum in mathematics aligns with university expectations, particularly for students in transfer programs.

Each workgroup was structured in the same way—a workgroup chair was a college faculty member or administrator who provided leadership to workgroups and staff liaisons were representatives from the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) and the Office of the Board of Governors for the State University System.

In July and August 2018, the Center developed a milestone toolkit as well as a charter to guide the workgroups through the statewide mathematics pathways re-design and content alignment process. With this established framework, in September 2018, the workgroups convened at St. Petersburg College to launch the Florida Mathematics Re-Design Initiative. Then, on February 14, 2019, workgroup members convened at Polk State College. Workgroups, and sub-working groups called huddles composed of 5-7 workgroup members, also convened remotely throughout the process to advance the work. It was in these smaller groups that members did the deeper dive of gathering information about the challenges and identifying potential solutions.  The goals of the meetings were to discuss solutions to previously identified challenges and to begin prioritizing solutions that moved forward as formal recommendations. To affect real change, the Center challenged the workgroups to identify high-impact recommendations that were bold and visionary as well as practical and achievable.

Center staff synthesized the recommendations developed by the workgroups and published them in Mathematics Re-Design: A Vision for Florida’s Future: Recommendations from the Florida Mathematics Re-Design Workgroups (Florida Student Success Center, 2019). This publication was released at the Florida Mathematics Re-Design Institute in June 2019, which served as the culmination of the workgroup process.

The intentional work of the Student Success Center, informed by practitioners and education leaders from K-12 districts, the Florida College System, and the University System of Florida, led to systemic reform. During the 2021 legislative session, Senate Bill 366 modified section 1007.23, Florida Statutes, to require the Statewide Articulation Agreement to establish three mathematics pathways for students by aligning mathematics courses to programs, meta-majors and careers. This Center is currently leading the implementation of this legislation in partnership with FDOE and the Office of the Board of Governors, which includes facilitating a cross-sector committee that is charged with identifying the mathematics pathways and associated course sequences. It is anticipated that the pathways will be in place for entering degree-seeking students in the 2023-2024 academic year.

By addressing one of the barriers to entry faced by students — particularly minority students in Florida — with support from Helios Education Foundation, the Student Success Center is supporting colleges to help increase the number of Floridians who complete two- and four-year degrees.