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Many community colleges have made changes to math placement policies, course structure and curriculum to improve outcomes and close equity gaps in completion rates, but the problem persists, according to a new report from Education Equity Solutions.
To better understand what factors can promote student success among underrepresented minority students, researchers evaluated student and faculty demographics and syllabi for community college math courses along with student outcomes. The report found specific teaching methods can improve academic outcomes among Black and Latino students, putting them on par with their white and Asian peers.
The report uses data from 22,927 students enrolled in 704 gateway math courses taught by 159 math faculty members at four community colleges in California between winter 2020 and spring 2022. Researchers surveyed faculty members in spring 2022 and analyzed course syllabi from that semester, as well, representing 2,884 students in 137 courses taught by 78 faculty members.
Among students, 51 percent were Latino, 19 percent were Asian, 19 percent were white and 5 percent were Black. Fewer than 6 percent identified as two or more races, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or did not report a race.
Findings: Demographic background, socioeconomic status and prior academic preparation are associated with student success in college course, so researchers created a regression model identifying how those factors stack up against student’s instructor in determining whether a student passes a gateway math course with a grade of a C or higher.
The report found the faculty member is one of the most important predictors of student success in gateway math.
Demographics about a professor—including age, gender, race or ethnicity—were not predictive of students passing the course, which researchers say demonstrates teaching style and course delivery as more clear factors of change.
To test this, researchers surveyed faculty and reviewed their syllabi against outcome data and found two practices predicted success among Black and Latino students:
- Growth-oriented, transparent assessment and grading practices. Providing feedback to students on how they can improve in the course and creating practice opportunities before exams were positively associated with passing gateway math among Black and Latino students as well as Asian students. Course syllabi with clear course expectations, grading criteria and showing solutions with examples also benefited students.
- Equitable accommodations. Professors can highlight accommodations for missed work due to unforeseen circumstances in their syllabi and maintain equitable enforcement to close equity gaps.
Researchers also found three additional practices benefited Black students:
- Communicating support. Black students in classes with professors who encourage help seeking and front-load supportive messages to destigmatize the need for assistance were more likely to pass. Some examples of support are to outline when a student should ask for help or a message sharing that the professor wants to help students.
- Fostering belonging. Professors can encourage feelings of belonging among Black students, thus promoting academic success and retention, by sharing stories of academic concerns, helping them navigate higher education structures by including vocabulary or how to email a professor.
- Addressing racial equity. Faculty members who take a proactive approach to classroom diversity, including norms on how students should respect individual differences or provide guidelines for engaging in group work, can support Black student success.
None of the above practices discernibly helped white students but instead bridged racial disparities between Black and Latino scholars compared to their white and Asian peers.
Under evaluation: While the syllabi and survey analysis provided some insight into professors’ teaching, researchers see a place for future research to assess pedagogy and its impact on student success, such as direct classroom observation.
General instructional practices may also influence students’ passing rates outside of those specified, researchers added, so some professors’ teaching styles may be more aligned with student success practices across the board, benefiting students.
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