AffiliationUniversity of Southern Indiana
TitleDoes Precalculus Hurt More Than It Helps?
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Precalculus is intended as a rigorous preparation for calculus, developing students abstract reasoning skills, algebraic thinking, and deepening their understanding of a variety of mathematical functions. We ask whether USIs precalculus courses are achieving these goals. In a recent national study, Bressoud (2014) found that success rates in precalculus are relatively low, while only 50-60% of those who succeed in precalculus actually continue to calculus. For the students who do make it to calculus, there is evidence that precalculus does little to increase their chances of success, and the additional semester may actively discourage some students, especially those from underrepresented groups (Sonnert and Sadler, 2014). In light of these studies, we investigate the effects of precalculus at USI on students attitudes towards mathematics, and their subsequent performance in Calculus I. We present preliminary data on student attitudes gathered over several semesters in USIs three credit-hour precalculus course. While we observe a negative impact on attitudes towards mathematics, these changes are not out of line with previous studies (Sonnert 2015). Using a decade of data on student grades in USIs Calculus I course, we match students by SAT score and then compare success rates in Calculus I for the cohort who took precalculus at USI with the cohort who proceeded directly to calculus. Our initial analysis suggests that a semester of precalculus doesn't improve success rates in calculus. We will discuss ways in which this initial analysis can be improved using high school GPA, together with other data.
Bressoud, D (2014). Attracting and Retaining Students to Complete Two- and Four-Year Undergraduate Degrees in STEM: The Role of Undergraduate Mathematics Education. National Academy of Sciences; Washington, DC: 2014. (Commissioned for the Committee on Barriers and Opportunities in Completing 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees).
Sonnert, G. (2015) The Impact of Instructor and Institutional Factors on Students Attitudes, in Insights and Recommendations from the MAA National Study of College Calculus, Bressoud D., Mesa V., Rasmussen, C. (Eds.), MAA Press.
Sonnert, G. and Sadler, P. M. (2014). The Impact of Taking a College Pre-Calculus Course on Students' College Calculus Performance, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, v45 n8 p1188-1207.