Collegial Initiatives Help Ensure High Schoolers Math-Prepared

As education news buzzes about the cost for state colleges and universities to provide developmental courses to help high school graduates prepare for college-level classes, two local school districts are pairing with Pennsylvania College of Technology to help ensure their students are ready for college mathematics.

Both Jersey Shore Area Senior High School and Williamsport Area High School approached Penn College to help develop plans to assess and meet students’ needs before they head off to college.

The schools administered sample Penn College math placement tests to a large group of junior students in 2011-12 to establish their skill levels. Placement tests are given to entering first-year students at most colleges to determine what math and English courses they are prepared to take.

“We are trying to identify each student’s current working knowledge and provide the opportunity for them to move beyond that point,” said Ed G. Owens, Penn College’s assistant dean of integrated studies-liberal arts and sciences.

Both high schools have implemented a four-year math requirement for graduation. (The state mandates only three.) As a result, Jersey Shore math faculty are working with Penn College’s math department to develop a course that will bring students who do not meet college-math prerequisites – based on the sample placement test – up to speed in their algebra skills before heading to college.

At Williamsport Area High School, based on the sample test results, a smaller group of students was selected to take the full mathematics placement test administered to new Penn College students. Those who met prerequisites were offered the opportunity to take the Penn College math course Technical Algebra and Trigonometry I during the fall semester of their senior year.

Owens and Paul R. Watson II, Penn College’s assistant dean of integrated studies-programs,  visited the high school to meet individually with those students who did not meet the prerequisites to take the course, recommending ways for the students to remediate their skills and prepare for the next offering of the course at the high school in Spring 2013. Williamsport Area High School teachers, in consultation with Penn College’s math department, are planning steps to get them on track.

“They have clearly identified areas that need specific focus,” Watson said. “The students during that senior year will now have an opportunity to better prepare themselves for the transition to postsecondary education.”

As part of the Penn College NOW dual-enrollment program, Technical Algebra and Trigonometry I is offered at the high school during the school day and taught by a Penn College-trained high school faculty member to ensure the class meets the same rigor as that offered on campus. Students enrolled in the course will receive credits and grades both on their high school report card and a college transcript. Those who pass Technical Algebra and Trigonometry I in the fall semester will be offered the college’s Technical Algebra and Trigonometry II course in the spring.

There are several advantages to the students participating in the program, Owens explained. For one, the courses at both Jersey Shore and Williamsport enhance continuity in students’ math courses.

Often, the reason students are not prepared for the math courses that their college majors require is that, after taking algebra in their ninth- or 10th-grade year, many choose to take non-algebra-based math courses – such as business math or statistics – to meet the remainder of their high school requirements.

In the meantime, their algebra skills become rusty and need to be refreshed when they enter college – often before a student will be permitted to take the higher-level math courses required for their major.

Through this program, students may receive up to six college math credits or receive the remediation they need to avoid taking developmental courses when they arrive at college, saving on the cost of education for both students and colleges.

It also can provide a confidence boost to those who might not be considering a college degree.

“It eliminates the fear – now they have a college course under their belt,” Owens said.

Owens and Watson were impressed with the cooperation and the active role being played by math teachers at both the college and the high schools.

“We’ve had a good, intercollegiate discussion,” Owens said. “Without the cooperation of faculty, it wouldn’t happen. Those are things you sometimes don’t find other places.”

To learn more about Penn College NOW courses, visit Outreach for K-12 or call 570-320-8003.

For more about the college, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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