Evaluating the persistence and performance of 'successful' precalculus students in subsequent mathematics courses
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"Each year approximately 600,000 college students take a pre-calculus/college algebra and trigonometry course; yet only about 15-20% of them ever go on to start calculus" (Gordon, 1994, p. 136). Pre-calculus mathematics courses are often the "critical filter" to many college majors (Whitely, 1987). Unfortunately, these same courses are often deterrents, not only for persistence in mathematics and science fields, but in the pursuance of higher education in general. Even though many mathematics and science based fields expect that students begin in calculus, this is not the case for many college freshman. More specifically, introductory or pre-calculus mathematics courses are sometimes the cause of change m major for students considering majors in math or science-based fields (Whitely, 1987). Even more disparaging is the fact that"... students who do go on to calculus... retain little of the material they were taught and do not complete calculus" (Gordon, p. 136). Nationally, only about 40% of students who enroll in a pre-calculus course complete a first semester of calculus (Murray, 1999). Students are not able to apply the skills they have learned in pre-calculus courses toward subsequent courses, like calculus. Because minorities and women seem to compose the majority in many pre-calculus programs, they are often the focus of many studies (Hagedom, 1997; Treisman, 1992). Female and minority students, in particular, are imderrepresented in upper-level mathematics and science courses. Strenta et al. (1993) reported that on a national level, persistence in science, math and engineering majors was approximately 30% for women as opposed to 39% for men. Astin and Astin (1993) reported that approximately one-third of Hispanic students and one-half of black students completed degrees in science, mathematics and engineering fields. Seymour (1997) discovered that 41.2% of students of color attributed leaving a science, mathematics or engineering major to curriculum overload and fast pace of introductory mathematics and science courses. Even though contemporary research has begun to show changes in trends of mathematic achievement, problems in undergraduate mathematics programs still exist. Is pre-calculus study on college level effective? Some studies consider any course before calculus as remedial (Hagedom, 1997). Therefore, some institutions question the need for pre-calculus instruction on a college level. Likewise, some programs for mathematics and science-based majors expect that students begin in calculus. In the early 1990's, a reform movement began to improve the college calculus cumculum. However, for a time nothing was done to update prerequisite pre-calculus courses. As the problem receives more and more publicity with introduction of poticies and standards, such as the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, institutions have been forced to evaluate their pre-calculus programs for effectiveness. Some institutions since have implemented new pre-calculus programs, but some continue to use the same instructional methods. What happens to the students who are not ready for calculus when they enter college? What happens to the students who do not seem to benefit from present precalculus curriculimis?