Mike Winders and Richard Bisk raise many important points in their recent article for the NEBHE Journal, but curiously choose to ignore the substance of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education’s (BHE) policy on developmental math that followed a careful review of task force recommendations. Their characterization of the BHE policy is simply misleading. I believe we would agree, however, that the current assessment of students for developmental mathematics has left far too many students by the wayside and has engendered a national concern leading to major modifications in how institutions determine student preparedness for college and teach non-credit and credit-bearing math courses.
In two votes taken last October and December, the BHE authorized campuses to pilot a wide variety of approaches to developmental math placement—including but not limited to use of high school GPA in lieu of Accuplacer—and encouraged campuses to broadly experiment with new approaches to content, sequencing and timeframe of developmental math offerings. No one should be under the illusion that simply changing placement standards will address the fundamental issue of whether students are prepared to successfully complete their first credit-bearing math course in college. It is in the underlying changes to curriculum and teaching where the differences will be felt.
Of the 25 campuses now choosing among a variety of remedial placement options, six will continue to use Accuplacer and 19 are using either a “modified” high school GPA (including math-only GPA) or the standard 2.7 GPA threshold for entrance into credit-bearing coursework. The campuses came to these different approaches on an entirely voluntary basis. In fact, Worcester State University, where professors Bisk and Winders teach, will still use Accuplacer to determine student’s placement in mathematics so they are free to continue the approach they have used in the past.
The BHE has allowed for a period of experimentation that will provide quantitative and qualitative information to evaluate and inform the establishment of a systemwide effort and policy in the area of developmental math. Task force recommendations aside, it will be the results of these campus experiments in the next two years that will ultimately dictate BHE policy. We are extremely proud that Massachusetts is in the vanguard of states that are moving to improve remedial math instruction, with the goal of helping students become more successful in their courses and more likely to complete college.
Carlos E. Santiago
Senior Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs
Massachusetts Department of Higher Education