Subject: [admissions] [mathematics] To MS 065 or not to MS 065: whether it is nobler to challenge the students...
From: Dana Lee Ling
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005 20:54:51 +1100
CC: Jonathan Gourlay , Charles Musana , Ringlen Ringlen , Benson Moses , "Jean C. Thoulag" , Arlene Dumantay , Eddie Haleyalig , Jeff Arnold , "Dr.Richard Womack" , Dana Lee Ling , "Matthias J. Ewarmai" , Catherine Good

At the end of the mathematics meeting last month there was discussion of re-purposing MS 065 to serve certificate level students, possibly including material appropriate to vocational certificate students.  At that time I noted that the state sites would have to take the lead on this re-development effort and build a course useful to their certificate students.

I think such a course might also assist with an issue noted by one of the instructional coordinators in a side note to me today - what to do with certificate students who took and passed MS 090 with a "C" or better but then "place" back into MS 090 on the placement test.  This happens when certificate students take the entrance test to attempt to achieve admission to an associate's degree program.  If the course they take is MS 065, then placing into MS 090 after a single term at the state site would be a non-issue.1

This could mean creating a "lower than MS 090" level distinction on the entrance test, something the test does not currently do. The approval to create a lower bound to admissions would not necessarily require altering any of our tests, z-scores could be used to combine the three English sections and the one math section of the entrance test.

To throw an interesting monkey-wrench into the works, this afternoon I learned that one state site director asked that student's who are below the PreAlgebra level, below the level of the new MS 090, not be admitted to the college.2 The director, echoing words I've heard the president use, apparently feels it is not the college's job to do that which the high schools should have done and failed to do.  The director thus opposes the creation of an MS 065 preferring to not admit students are below prealgebra in the level of their mathematics.

There is a logic in the director's position: the certificate of achievement in general studies, arguably a common path towards associate's degree admission, requires MS 098 to graduate.  A student who starts in MS 090 could theoretically finish MS 098 in three terms, which is 150% of the duration of the certificate.  150% is a "magic" number: it is the number of Pell-"able" terms for a student in any program.  For a one year certificate, 150% is three terms.   Any student who started below MS 065 would take "200%" to finish the term.

Given the position of the president on not doing the job the high schools should have done, there is an argument to be made in favor of reaching out to underprepared students but then challenging them. I have always noted that the day our developmental courses see 100% promotion and retention rates is the day we have failed to reach down "low enough" to serve underprepared students.  Community colleges give underprepared students a "shot" at a higher education, but at the price of having to do a lot of hard work.  I always expect that our lowest levels will lose 50% or more, I look at it as half have had a chance to climb up into higher education.

MS 090 PreAlgebra will represent a high mountain for an underprepared student, but also an opportunity.  The very weakest students would still be screened out by the admissions "floor."

The decision of whether to re-develop and redeploy a modified MS 065 is not up to me in any way, shape, or form, that is ultimately up to the collective decisions of the instructional coordinators, the director of academic programs, the VPIA, and the curriculum committee.  I am but a single vote in the process, and would support the decisions of the instructional coordinators on this one.

There are so many complexities to our system that whatever we design cannot handle all of the complexities.  There is a certificate of achievement in food technology that requires MS 104 technical math, which has a prerequisite of MS 098.  Few certificate level students (remember that math scores traditionally correlate to English scores, although this is something I need to research again using the new English entrance test) place above MS 090.  This suggests that most students will take two years to complete this requirement (MS 090, MS 095, MS 098, and then MS 104).  This seems unachievable.  Maybe an MS 040 Math for Food Technology and Agriculture needs to be created.  But then MS 104 is a general education requirement and, based on the original rejection of the first AAS application3, the courses in gen ed cannot be major specific.  That leads me to wonder whether the certificate should be redesigned to require MS 095 like the gen ed core to law enforcement or the major requirements of bookkeeping.  Of course the new MS 095 is elementary algebra - these math decisions are going to affect curriculum across the college.

Meanwhile the certificate of achievement in preschool teacher education, trial counselors, community health sciences-health assistant training, and secretarial science require no mathematics whatsoever.

I have a sinking feeling that all certificate programs will have to be looked at against the revised mathematics curriculum that now uses an MS 090 PreAlgebra, MS 095 Elementary Algebra, and MS 098 Intermediate Algebra.  Adjustments to ensure that the appropriate level of math is retained in the program will have to be made.  Thus the law enforcement and bookkeeping certificates, if they want to retain PreAlgebra as their highest level of math, need to downshift from MS 095 to MS 090.  Other certificates might have to make similar adjustments.

With all due apologies for the length of this email,

1 This would not solve the problem per se, there would still be students who completed MS 090 taking the test. In the fall, however, new first-year certificate students who were retaking the entrance test would likely be in MS 065.  I have to guess that a lot of our fall state campus entrance testees are high school seniors making a second shot at passing the entrance test.

2 Note that not accepting students below the MS 090 PreAlgebra level would not prevent the earlier situation of a certificate student "re-placing" into MS 090 on the entrance test. 

3 An initial application to grant AAS degrees was rebuffed by the commission with comments that the general education requirements were insufficient and appeared to actually be specific to a particular major and thus not in keeping with the spirit of a "general education" requirement.  Some of this was handled at a semantic level only - VMS 100 (Vocational math science 100) was relabeled MS 104 Technical Math.  Some was handled by the introduction of a humanities requirement, although I still remember a former director of vocational education objecting, noting that he really did not need a plumber who could spout poetry about water, he wanted a plumber who could fix the water spout.


Dana Lee Ling
Chair Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
College of Micronesia-FSM

Historically diverse, uniquely Micronesian and globally connected, the College of Micronesia-FSM is a continuously improving and student centered institute of higher education. The college is committed to assisting in the developing of the nation by providing academic, career and technical educational opportunity for learners in the Federated States of Micronesia.

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