Inside the Community College Developmental Math Classroom: Understanding Differences between Faculty and Students' Attitudes and Experiences



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This study provides a better understanding of how student and faculty perceive the developmental math classroom experience and the impact on students’ ability to successfully complete developmental math courses. A significant contribution of the study is the identification of a positive correlation between students’ attitudes and perceptions of the classroom environment and successful course completion. A second major contribution is a detailed description of pedagogical strategies and classroom leadership behaviors exhibited by developmental math faculty who do, and do not, have high student pass rates. The three research questions for this study were:

  1. What is the relationship between students’ attitudes and perceptions of their developmental math classroom experience and their likelihood for successful course completion?

  2. To what extent are student and faculty attitudes and perceptions of the developmental math classroom learning environment congruent?

  3. What are the pedagogical strategies and classroom leadership behaviors exhibited by developmental math faculty who do, and do not, have high student pass rates in these courses?

Two theoretical frameworks; Goal Theory Model of Achievement Motivation and Transformational Leadership; were used to guide this research. This mixed methods study was a case study of developmental math students and faculty from a medium sized rural community college in Texas, enrolled and teaching in the fall 2013. The sample included 661students enrolled in developmental math during the fall 2013 semester. There were a total of 17 developmental math instructors, of which three were employed full time, and 14 were employed part time. Quantitative data was collected from all 17 faculty and seven of these faculty were interviewed about the instructional practices they use when teaching developmental math students. A quantitative analysis was conducted of secondary course evaluation and student success data. A factor analysis was first conducted and reliability established for the course evaluation data. Next, a Pearson product moment r correlation was conducted in to determine the correlation between student perception and student success rates. The qualitative methods employed included 7 interviews (2 full time and 5 part time) with recruited developmental math faculty. Transcribed interview data were organized by thematic data analysis using a deductive process (Creswell, 2008) The Pearson product-moment r correlation conducted in this study found moderate positive correlations, r(14) = .64, p<.01 and r(14) = .51, p=.04, between the two factors extracted from the course evaluation data and student success rates. Primary themes emerging from the qualitative analysis included: Meeting Students’ Individual Needs, Facilitating Student Learning and Acquisition of Skills, and Motivating and Inspiring Students. This extends the work of the MET Project to community colleges. The MET Project established that well-crafted student surveys have potential to inform professional development programs and can be used, along with other relevant data, to evaluate teacher effectiveness (Kane & Cantrell, 2010). This study suggests that student success rates increased when faculty demonstrated behaviors associated with transformational leadership and a mastery goal orientation. Recommendations for policy and practice are provided to assist in the rigorous reform efforts needed to help students in developmental math education persist to completion.



Developmental education, Transformational leadership, Community colleges, Achievement goals