College algebra is a stumbling block for many students, working to graduate on time. According to a researcher and instructor with Everett Community College, says that the type of math students learn in basic courses is part of the problem. College algebra is not that kind of math that they use in day to day life.

Soft SkillsRecently Christopher Quarles completed research on the differences between procedural and conceptual math. In procedural math, students know the steps for solving specific types of problems.  In conceptual math, equations are connected to practical uses, charts, data, and graphs.

Quarles joined with Mickey Davis, a former University of California-Berkeley researcher to research the types of math instruction.  They found that conceptual math is retained longer by students than the procedural.  They also found that algebra, when it has no real-world connection, does not prepare students for the math they must take in college.

According to Quarles, fewer than a third of students who enroll at a community college complete a degree or certificate at the same institution. They intend to transfer to a four year program, but fewer than half of these continue to get bachelors degrees.

“This has been a big issue for us for a while. It’s a big issue nationally,” Quarles said. “You’ve got millions of students who are taking developmental or remedial classes at community colleges, and basically it’s repeating high school level math.”

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