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Spotlight: Michael Wangler & Transforming Instruction in Math

“Educator Spotlight” highlights practitioners and researchers in order to learn from them student success strategies. These strategies can be evidence-based, research-based, and/or promising practices.

Educator Spotlight: Michael Wangler, Citrus College Dean of Mathematics & Business

Michael has been a dean at Citrus College since 2017. He has served as a member of the Citrus College AB 705 Implementation Team and has led the Mathematics Program to full-implementation of AB 705. Prior to Citrus, Michael taught Geography and Earth Sciences for sixteen years at Cuyamaca College in San Diego County, where he also served as Curriculum Chair, Accreditation Co-Chair, and Academic Senate President.


Given that for decades community college students have been stuck in a remedial math quagmire, what’s been implemented at the college to place students into transfer-level math and help them be successful?

We started by looking at our own internal data and mapping students who started 2 or 3 levels below transfer. We found that the vast majority of students who begin in basic skills do not complete a transfer-level math course, even when single course success rates are relatively high. For example, if we assume success and persistence rates of 70%, only 17% of students who begin 2 levels below transfer and 8% of students who begin 3 levels below transfer will successfully make it through the basic skills sequence and complete a transfer-level course.

Statewide research suggests that if these same students are placed directly into transfer-level coursework at least 50% will be successful. As a result of this study, we adopted a multiple measures assessment and placement approach that uses a rubric to incorporate a student’s overall high school GPA and the last math class completed in high school with a C- or better. Initially, we used the disjunctive method for placing students, where we compared a student’s high school record with their placement exam score and placed students based on the higher of the two measures. Upon analyzing these data, we found that placements based on a student’s high school record was equal to or greater than the placement exam for 95% of all students.

As a result, we discontinued our use of the placement exam and we now place all students into math based on their high school record, or an evaluation of college transcripts for those students who’ve already completed course work at another college. In addition, we’ve eliminated our basic skills sequence and place all students directly into transfer-level math courses.  For students in need of extra support, we’ve developed co-requisite courses at the transfer-level that are schedule back-to-back with the main course as a block, hard linked as a learning community, and taught by the same instructor. In addition, we utilize just-in-time remediation, productive struggle, and growth mindset in the classroom. We also utilize embedded tutors in the classroom as well as after class study sessions.

How did students respond to the change?

Interestingly, some students were resistant at first because they had become accustomed to the content delivery/lecture model. The classroom experience has been transformed from a passive lecture-based format to an active collaborative environment where students work together as a cohort and learn from each other instead of being lectured to the whole time.

We went from this:

To this:

Over time, students got more comfortable with this approach and ended up liking it better in the end. Here’s a sample of student survey responses:

“Group work (i.e. working with peers) was effective in helping me learn in this course.”

“I gained a sense of responsibility by being in this course.”

“My instructor helped me succeed in this course by reviewing foundations skills right before we tackled more complex problems.”

“I gained a sense of community by being in this course.”

“The collaborative learning environment is one reason I came to class.”

What’s the data tell you now as a result of these changes?

In fall 2015, 18% of first-time college students had access to transfer-level math. It’s currently 56% and will be 100% starting in Fall 2019. In addition, in 2015-16, our one-year completion rate in math was 19%, and we’re expecting this to be close to 60% by the end of this current academic year (2018-19). There are still some equity gaps and we’re working hard to address them.

Please describe faculty’s role.

From my perspective, faculty understood the daunting story the data was telling them. Extremely low success rates in math became unacceptable. Our colleagues at the English department felt the same way about remedial English. Before AB 705 was passed, the college was already moving forward with strategies to deal with the challenges in both remedial English and math.

Our faculty came together to conduct research on promising practices, learn from one another, and to understand what other campuses implemented successfully. As a result, our faculty members have created an inclusive, student-centered classroom environment where students build confidence, collaborate with their peers and learn critical thinking skills contextualized to the real world. Faculty led the changes and will continue to make adjustments to implementation as they analyze data and garner student feedback.

What’s been your approach as a dean when leading change?

In higher education we tend to talk a lot about believing in the capacity of our students, which is critically important and essential for the concurrent support model to work; however, it's just as important to believe in the capacity of faculty. As dean, I’ve tried to provide faculty with the resources and space to innovate and create a student-centered classroom environment where students can build confidence and receive the support they need in order to thrive and be successful.


Also visit:

Dr. John Bartelt & Teaching Strategies

Michael Haussler, K12 & Higher Education Teacher

Yadira Arellano & Teaching Dual Enrollment

Contact me about customized trainings or ongoing coaching support to help your campus plan and implement grants, projects, or comprehensive efforts such as guided pathways.  Use the contact form on the right (bottom of the page for mobile users).


(A. Solano)

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