New Course Guide Helps Students Choose Math Based on Career Goals
First-year students are often surprised to discover that math courses they took in high school don’t meet the requirements of their chosen career path.
Some students may realize they were advised to take calculus when in fact their program required statistics or quantitative reasoning. Others may find themselves starting their first year of college with a remedial math course because they weren’t required to take math in their senior year. These scenarios are just a few of countless others that show how math misalignment between high school and postsecondary education impact student opportunities.
“Students are better served by advanced math courses that give them the knowledge and skills that are most applicable to and required for their careers,” said Lindsay Perlmutter Fitzpatrick, policy and implementation lead at the Dana Center.
Math alignment across higher education institutions and districts has been the main objective of the Central Texas Math Alignment Taskforce (CTXMAT), which was established in 2018. Education leaders came together to reach a consensus on how to best support students at each stage of their educational journey, resulting in The Central Texas Student Guide for Choosing Math Courses.
How the Student Guide Works
The student guide provides students and families with the information they need to make course-taking choices in mathematics that are aligned to their career aspirations. It outlines which courses students should take in high school based on entry-level math requirements and recommendations for common majors and career clusters across the Central Texas region.
Alongside the student guide, counselors and district leaders are provided with a supplemental package to advise students at any stage of their mathematics education. The companion information includes:
- Best Practices to Increase College Readiness
- Regionwide Research and Evidence
- Actionable Steps for Common Course-Taking Patterns
Download Companion Guide
“Counselors want to do what’s best for their students,” said Lindsay. “If they’re advising all students on a path to calculus, they’re advising them based on outdated information. This new guide gives them the most up-to-date information for the region.”
Why Math Alignment Matters
Inconsistent requirements across educational institutions create barriers at transition points. When students are inappropriately placed into math courses that don’t serve them, they are hindered by unnecessary obstacles. Delayed graduation, additional coursework or, distressingly, additional tuition fees are not uncommon.
Unfortunately, Black and Latino students, and students experiencing poverty are often the students making these misguided choices due to systemic barriers. Historically, our education systems were set up to negatively impact minoritized students who disproportionately have limited resources. When current, advantageous information is the default in some districts but not others, equitable access becomes part of the objective.
“When our institutions start aligning their message with each other and students’ needs, our students are vastly more successful and our system dissolves barriers that don’t need to exist!” said Susan Dawson, cofounder of CTXMAT and president of E3 Alliance.
When students choose relevant, accelerated math pathways, they are far more likely to complete postsecondary degrees and certificates. And when they get the right start, students begin to earn credits towards a 2- or 4-year college.
By providing students with actionable recommendations, education leaders are supporting equitable access for postsecondary education with preparation that will lead to more opportunities and earning potential.
Getting Started in Your Area
Although the CTXMAT guides are designed for that particular region, their approach can be used to create a cohesive plan in different states or regions. The following policies and practices are a great rule of thumb to support equitable access and student success:
- Students should take math in all four years of high school.
- All students need the content commonly found in Algebra 1, Geometry, and most of Algebra 2. The math courses that follow should be based on a student's aspirations.
- Students should be encouraged to take advanced mathematics courses in high school (e.g., dual enrollment courses, AP courses).
- Families should be informed on the benefits of advanced math pathways as early as 5th grade.
“Aligning your math pathway with your career choice makes perfect sense,” said Patsy Phillips, advising supervisor at Austin Community College. “We can assist students in making informed decisions, and students save time and money on extraneous coursework that doesn't move them closer to their goal. It's a big win for both students and our programs.”
When counselors and district leaders use current, research-based practices, they can set students on the right track from the start.
These toolkits are exemplary tools for other regions and states’ efforts to align math requirements to postsecondary education.
To learn more about how to develop a resource for your state or region, contact Lindsay Perlmutter Fitzpatrick, policy and implementation lead at the Dana Center.
For additional resources on math pathways, visit Dana Center Mathematics Pathways.
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