# Math Keeps Students Behind

September 24, 2004

Prior to taking a math course students must take an assessment test to be placed in the appropriate class. Often, they are disatisfied with their test results, and many students hold off on math courses until the end of their coursework.

What some students don’t realize is that once they take a math course they may not retake the math assessment test and must continue in the sequence of math courses as determined by their placement test until they are able to reach a transferable course.

Due to this school policy, it often can be difficult for a student to finish their required math courses in one to two semesters. Many students linger at community colleges because of math courses they need to take in order to catch up the college level math.

These students end up falling behind the two-year program it should take students to transfer with only math courses left to complete. Many wonder if any thing can be done to eliminate this process.

It is important for students to realize that if they receive a low score on the assessment test, for both math and English, they may challenge their test scores. The problem is many students begin their math course and realize that the material is so easy it leaves them effortlessly passing, but cannot then challenge their scores because they’ve already enrolled in a math course.

Still students should challenge their scores before enrolling in a math course. Challenging assessment test scores is not an easy task. Students must speak to the chair of the math division, Peter Stathis. Stathis will then use his own procedures in testing the students’ adequacy.

However, challenging assessment placement is not a solution. Students are encouraged to avoid having to go through any such procedures. There is a wide variety of measures a student can take in order to prepare them for the assessment test.

The assessment center offers practice tests as well as online at GCC’s Web site. The learning center located in the administration building offers home videos that can either be viewed from the tutoring center or borrowed over night. It is essentially the students’ responsibility to be prepared before taking the assessment placement test.

Students typically score low on assessment tests for a variety of reasons. Many students do not take the assessment tests after high school and hold off on taking math courses until the end of their term at community college. Some expect the assessment test to be easier for them than it ends up being.

Much of the confusion lies in the fact that the assessment test is a placement test and not a proficiency test. Chair of the math division Peter Stathis said, “The way the test is designed is for initial placement in a math course where a student can be successful. It is not a proficiency test!”

GCC student Judith Ghouggssian placed at Math 101 during her assessment testing. However she postponed in taking the math course and took during her last semester at GCC. Unfortunately she got stuck at GCC an extra semester because she had to retake Math 101.

“It is not understood why students are allowed to finish all of their general education requirements before enrolling in a math class. When students finish all of their required courses, some are left with two or three more semesters, just to finish their math requirements,” said Isabelle Saber, GCC math instructor.

“The school is trying to address this problem, counselors are trying to get students to enroll in English and math courses during their first semester,” said Saber. “Students keep putting math off because it is their biggest fear.”

GCC’s learning center director Dennis Doyle feels,”…many students don’t take the assessment test seriously and they rush through it. Some students come from private schools where they are used to small classrooms with one-on-one help,” he said. “Then they come to a big urban school. The environment is different.”

“There is so much trouble with mathematics at GCC. There are so many times during my term at GCC where I’ve seen so many students struggle with their math courses,” said Judith Ghouggssian. “It is one of the main problems on campus. It is hard to determine whether it is the math instructors or the students. Maybe the matter is as simple as choosing the right instructor when taking a math course.”

“Ultimately the responsibility is on the shoulders of the students. If they fail, they blame the instructors because they feel more comfortable as victims,” said Saber.

Doyle explained that the learning center offers plenty of preparation strategies and understands that there are cases in which a student feels he or she has been misplaced with the score they received on their assessment test.

“We can’t make them take classes based on their assessment scores, all we can do is offer them an alternative which would be to challenge their test scores,” he said.

Some community colleges such as Pasadena City College offer a waiver. After receiving assessment test results, if the student feels that he or she has placed too low, they may request to sign a waiver which then allows the student to proceed to the next math level.

Peter Stathis doesn’t feel this is the best idea. “It is bad to have classes when one is unprepared. Instructors don’t like that because it lowers the range in their classrooms.”

Ultimately, the decision about whether or not these waivers should be allowed is up to the superintendent of the school, John A. Davitt.

Challenging math assessment test scores is something students are expected to carefully consider because math courses are like building blocks and higher level courses rely on lower level course preparation. “You can’t jump over your knees,” said Stathis.