Tag Archives: competency


The last presentation I attended at the Learning College Summit 2010 was probably the best of the bunch. In a conference year marked by a paucity of faculty practioners, Prof. Betty Frost’s presentation on Jackson State Community College’s (Tennessee) Bellwether Award winning SMART (Developmental) Math program was inspiring. SMART stands for Survive Master Achieve Review Transfer. Camosun members of the department formerly known as ABE may find some remarkable similarities to our own late and lamented Open Lab at Interurban.

SMART Math’s goals are very similar to our own developmental math goals here at Camosun:

  • Improve Student Success
  • Increase Learning
  • Prepare students for career and educational goals – not just remediate high school deficiencies

Like our old math lab, the SMART Learning Environment incorporates two class sections of 30 each into a large learning centre. They are open six days a week as well as four evenings and staffed by instructors, professional tutors (possibly equivalent to our instructional assistants?) and student tutors. As MyMathLab/MathXL plays a key part in the instructional process, the centre is equipped with 76 computer stations, including an area set aside for proctored testing.

Before the ‘redesign’, they taught Basic Math through Intermediate Algebra in traditional classrooms. Students had to complete all three courses before enrolling in certain college level courses. Each instructor designed their own course materials and the class time was inflexible. If a student failed to complete in one term, they had to start over the next term. The pass rate was 42%.

The SMART Math objectives are based on mastery of competencies, not just self-paced. It provides more frequent opportunities for success with accommodation of learning styles, on-demand individual assistance and immediate feedback on tests and homework all offered in an environment that provides opportunities to progress more quickly (or slowly). The three original courses have been modularized with multiple exit options to fit individual student requirements based on educational and career goals. As a result, there are more frequent opportunities for successful completion.

Modularization was accomplished by separating the three traditional courses into 12 modules. Procedures were set up to provide students with multi-exit options based on their career choices. Rather than have students register for each separate module, three ‘shell’ courses were set up with a student completing four modules in each. Their grade for each course was the average of their four highest module scores. Students needing to complete more modules could register in a fourth shell course. Roles have changed for faculty. They are now facilitators and evaluators of student learning. As well as guiding each student’s study through developmental math, they also lead small group instruction on difficult topics.

New students begin with a pre-test on Module 1 which requires 80% percent mastery to move on. If they score less than 80%, they complete the MathXL assigned homework, a practice test and then a post-test. They require 80% mastery to move from one homework assignment to the next. Seventy-five percent mastery is required on the proctored post-test.

The program has been successful. Mean post-test scores have increased by up to 20% over traditional instructional approaches. More importantly the overall success rate has increased by 45% and overall retention by 14%. Cost savings have come to both the students and the college. Students can complete developmental math requirement in one term and also adjust their schedule to suit family and work commitments. In addition to reducing college costs per student by over 20%, college enrollment numbers have increased as students are now able to more readily meet course prerequisites for credit courses.

The model is certainly applicable to our developmental math courses at Camosun. While more exploration is needed on how this model could be adapted for our own essential skills agenda, it is certainly a way to respond to identified community partner learning needs.