Mandatory placement might be in CEU's future

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As a high school student, your math or English instructors may have warned you that a low ACT score could force you to take remedial, non-credit courses in college. This may have caused you to fret while choosing your schedule as a College of Eastern Utah freshman, but it turns out your fears were unnecessary and you were free to select the classes of your choice. Were you intentionally misguided, you wonder, or was there some truth behind these warnings?

CEU is the only Utah college which does not mandatorily place students into math and English classes. Other institutions place their students using ACT, Accuplacer, or other tests to determine their math and English abilities.

A Board of Regents meeting in October of 2007 discussed the difficulties of teaching math to incoming college freshman. After comparing high school Algebra II requirements to Math 1010 and 1050, the Regents found, "Certain topics are covered in one or the other curriculum but not both ... .. UVSC found that new college students demonstrate deficits in the areas not covered in Algebra II."

As the state curriculum for high school math is not being changed to make 1050 and Algebra more compatible, colleges around the state are making adjustments to improve the performance of their students in these areas.

Michelle Fleck, CEU instructor and vice president of academic affairs, explains, "I teach College Algebra sometimes ... It's really hard as a teacher to teach to a whole class of students when you have some that just aren't prepared. They come into a college algebra class and they don't even have arithmetic skills ... they can't add fractions; they don't really understand long division sometimes. It's really hard to take them from that and get them where they need to be in college algebra ... So it makes it hard on the teacher to teach a class unless everybody has about the same skill level."

Although this may limit some of the student's freedom, the new program is aimed to ease student frustrations and avoid the financial aid impacts of failing a required class repeatedly. Also, in the Regent's study, they found that, "All studies on 'the curve of forgetting' point to a similar result: if you start at knowing nothing on a subject, then spend one hour learning such that you know 100% of the subject, your knowledge of the subject drops to 58% within 20 minutes."

In order to fight this forgetting curve, students must exercise their math and English skills over a period of time. Also, should CEU implement mandatory placement, they may put a time limit on math classes. This means that courses taken after a certain period of time, usually about two years, are discounted as credit towards graduation.

Mandatory placement has already been adopted at CEU's Blanding campus with great success. In a meeting on Sept. 30, faculty from both campuses discussed the concept and how it would affect both students and staff, "The concept of mandatory placement in Math and English has been discussed at CEU for several years. Perhaps 50% of our current students would be affected by MP."

The meeting also outlined the process of placement in Blanding, "Students take the Accuplacer exam during pre-registration and are typically not allowed to register unless they have completed a placement exam ... . [and] scores are stored in the Banner database. Advisors meet with all incoming freshmen prior to the beginning of Fall Semester, and they consider placement test scores and high school transcripts when making placement decisions. 'Challenge exams' are available for students who think they were placed beneath their ability levels."

Before utilizing this system, which could start as early as Fall 2009, some problems are being considered. First, there is some question as to how this would affect our enrollment, though Blanding has not experienced this difficulty.

Financial aid generally will only cover less than 30 credits of below 1000 level math, so the impact of this on students is also in consideration. Another issue is th increased burden on academic advisors.

One question posed at the Price and Blanding meeting was, "In order to offer the necessary sections of developmental courses, would the Price Campus need to hire/reassign faculty?" Fleck expounds, "It would change people's teaching loads. For instance, the math department would have to offer more sections of lower level classes and make major adjustments to the course schedule so they could accommodate students if we're going to force students to take 990, we have to make enough sections available for them to be able to get in."

CEU might also consider offering a short preparation course before the beginning of school in order to help students place higher on exams.

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