Math Competency is Vital to Student Success

40 percent of our college students are forced to take remedial math in college.  It has been that way for two decades. 

That's about 12,000 every year – and the number goes up from there during times of enrollment spikes. Aside from the financial and economic aspects of this problem, it is also the biggest barrier to college retention and completion.

It’s time to try a different approach.

During the 2015 session, I sponsored 2SB 196, the Math Competency Initiative. It's a unique way to address this issue: the measure builds on current math requirements, and focuses on math competency – not seat time.

The Math Competency Initiative allows the students to achieve the math competencies that meet their goals as developed in their college and career plan. (Every student already develops this plan with their parents and counselor at the beginning of high school). It doesn't track students, but it sets appropriate math expectations for helping students succeed in their chosen pathway.

Here's how the initiative works:

  • For the college bound student, (a choice made by the student and his or her parents) he or she will demonstrate math competency sufficient to meet the minimum college “quantitative literacy requirements” and receive appropriate college credit. Competencies can be demonstrated in a number of different ways:

– Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate performance
– Challenge exams such as Accuplacer, ACT, CLEP, and other equivalent tests.
– Concurrent enrollment courses completed with at least a grade of “C”

  • Non-degree seeking students will complete the appropriate applied math competencies for their college and career plan. Competencies will be established by the State Board of Education.
  • Special needs students will meet the standardsdescribed in their Individual Education Plan (IEP).
  • The bill gives rule-making authority to the State Board of Education to make requirement exceptions for senior students who may have unexpected circumstances that prevent them from achieving the competencies in time for graduation.

Students will receive the same diploma and have access to college if their future plans change in the same manner as they do today. Students who know they are college bound will have already demonstrated the math competencies they need to be successful in college before they ever graduate from high school.  Students who have not chosen a 'college-bound' course in high school will not be denied access to further schooling as a result of this legislation. That student would simply have to take the math placement test to determine the appropriate math course, just as every student does today.

The bill provides a basic conceptual framework – details and specifics of this unique solution will require the collective work of the Utah State Office of Education and the Utah System of Higher Education.  Both organizations are granted significant rule making authority to develop rules for implementation.

Our goal is 66 Percent By 2020. As a legislature, we've finally awakened to the idea that we have to take on this issue. Solving this problem is critical to our college graduation rates and our workforce needs.

Doing nothing for 10 more years is not an acceptable answer. Change can be difficult, but this is a change we must make.

2SB 196 received strong support among legislators and education groups. The bill was passed by a wide majority in the House (54 yea votes on final passage) and in the Senate (25 yea votes on final passage). The Utah School Board Association, the Utah State Superintendents Association and the Utah Association of School Business Officers support the measure. State Superintendent Brad Smith and Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Buhler both spoke in support of  the bill in the House Education committee. The Utah Technology CouncilProsperity 2020, and leaders from the Education First initiative all spent time this session to bring us together in understanding the importance of the Math Competency Initiative.

Ultimately, this initiative will help improve college and retention rates, and will likewise save our students and Utah's citizens at-large the tuition and taxpayer dollars that are now being spent on remedial course work.

Utah students are ready to take on the challenge. Utah legislators are ready to help. The Governor has thrown his support behind the measure by signing the bill into law. Let's keep working together to see our students well-equipped for success.

[Editor's note: Gov. Herbert signed 2SB196 into law on March 31, 2015].