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District and college team up to tackle remedial math

Denise Sullivan, assistant superintendent for curriculum, Hampton Bays Schools
District: 
Hampton Bays Public Schools
State: 
New York
Program category: 
Award Cycle: 

Many of the graduates entering college from New York’s Hampton Bays High School in 2011 weren’t ready for higher education math.

At neighboring Suffolk County Community College, 68 percent of the first-year students from Hampton Bays had to take remedial math.

“These numbers were horrifying to us and created a real sense of urgency,” says Denise Sullivan, the assistant superintendent for curriculum at the Hampton Bays Schools.

Sullivan approached the college president to discuss the problem and forged an innovative partnership.

In an uncommon move, Sullivan and the chair of the mathematics department at the college created a high school course that mirrors the remedial class that students deficient in math have to take when they start college.

The college was “thrilled.” “Nobody else was taking this approach,” Sullivan says. The college had found that only 20 percent of the students who entered in need of developmental courses went on to graduate.

Faculty from the college and the district also worked together over four months to develop the two placement tests used to predict if high school juniors would later need remediation. Students who don’t pass the test are required to take Hampton Bays’ developmental math course in the fall of their senior year.

The biggest challenge was getting some students and parents to accept the new requirement, Sullivan says. She helps families understand that the high school course is free, while they will have to pay for the college remedial course that doesn’t even carry credit, she says.

During the class—which is held in a computer lab and taught by a math teacher—students work on the same math program used at the community college. “The beauty of the program is that if you answer enough questions correctly, it progresses to a higher level,” Sullivan says. “It’s like a personal trainer.”

The percentage of Hampton Bays’ graduates needing remedial math at Suffolk County Community College dropped to 46 percent in 2011-12 (the first year of the program), 31 percent in 2012-13 and 25 percent for this year’s graduating class.

Two years ago, the district extended its remedial program to writing classes, with an emphasis on creating portfolios of written work. While 23 percent of students in the class of 2014 had to take the remedial writing course during their senior year, more than half were able to take the regular freshman English course in college this fall.

“It’s our obligation as a school district to send these students to college as prepared as possible,” Sullivan says.

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