Dana Center Mathematics Pathways

diversed group of students in classroom


As community colleges try to increase graduation rates, one of the greatest challenges they face is improving the success of students in their developmental, or remedial, education programs. The Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP), formerly known as the New Mathways Project, was developed by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, in partnership with the Texas Association of Community Colleges. It is focused on the development and implementation of new, accelerated developmental and college-level math pathways that are more aligned with social sciences, health, and liberal arts professions while also providing a revised model for the algebra pathway for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. It aims to allow community college students who place into developmental mathematics courses and are not pursuing an algebra-intensive degree to complete in one academic year a credit-bearing, transferable mathematics course relevant to their future major or career goals. Students in the DCMP may also take a newly developed student success course meant to support them through math, in their chosen majors, and later in their careers.

MDRC has been working with the Dana Center to study the development and implementation of the DCMP since fall 2012. The research began with a qualitative investigation of nine Texas community colleges, beginning with their preparation for the DCMP in spring 2013 and continuing through its initial implementation in the 2013-2014 academic year. Findings from this work were published in April 2015.

Beginning in fall 2014, MDRC began to evaluate the DCMP more rigorously as one of the three primary research efforts under the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR), funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. A collaborative project of MDRC and the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, CAPR aims to improve knowledge and research about reforms in developmental education assessment, placement, and instruction. The evaluation of the DCMP will be based on a random assignment design and will include research into the implementation of the DCMP at four colleges in Texas, as well as a cost study.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The Dana Center began work on the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (formerly known as the New Mathways Project) in spring 2012 and signed on an initial cohort of nine “codevelopment” colleges in fall 2012. Those nine colleges began implementing DCMP courses in fall 2013. As of fall 2014, 20 of the 50 Texas community college systems were implementing the DCMP, and 47 of the systems were enrolled in and engaged with the project. Preparations for a random assignment study of the DCMP began in fall 2014, and the first cohort of students began classes in fall 2015.

Key research questions for the evaluation include:

  1. Do DCMP students have better academic outcomes than students in traditional developmental math programs? Are these changes in outcomes the result of changes in student engagement?
  2. How faithfully are colleges implementing the DCMP model? What aspects of the DCMP are consistent across sites? What adaptations were made and why?
  3. How do the curriculum and pedagogy in DCMP courses differ from colleges’ traditional developmental math courses?
  4. Is the DCMP cost-effective relative to business as usual?

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The evaluation of the DCMP will use a random assignment design where students are randomly assigned either to (1) the opportunity to participate in the DCMP developmental math course or (2) the opportunity to participate in their colleges’ regular services. The impact of the DCMP will be estimated by comparing the outcomes of these two groups. Both groups will be tracked for up to two years to determine the program’s effects on students’ progress through developmental education, enrollment and success in college-level courses, continued persistence in college, and graduation. The evaluation includes complementary implementation research, a student survey, and a cost analysis.

The study is taking place at four Texas community colleges that are implementing the DCMP. Students will enroll in the study over four incoming cohorts, starting in fall 2015. The target population for the study includes students who are in need of one or two developmental math courses and who are expecting to major in fields that would require a college-level statistics or quantitative reasoning (also known as contemporary math) course. The study is expected to enroll at least 1,000 students, of whom approximately 60 percent will be assigned to the DCMP group and 40 percent to the control group.

Data on the main outcomes will be obtained from college transcript records. In addition, program implementation, fidelity, and service contrast (the degree to which program group students receive different services from standard group students) will be examined through surveys of students, interviews and focus groups (involving students, instructors, advisers/counselors, academic support staff members, and administrators), and classroom observations.