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Mathematics from High School to Community College: Preparation, Articulation, and College Un-readiness


This research studied the role of mathematics as a roadblock to college completion for community college-bound students in California. Using longitudinal quantitative analysis, I observed the educational pipeline between high school and community college and analyzed how different high school mathematics histories predicted readiness, or un-readiness, for college-level mathematics. I found the pipeline metaphor inaccurate and misleading. Rather than being carried, or pumped, through a single pipeline, community college-bound students hiked diverse trails through high school mathematics. At important junctures, students chose or were directed to paths that diminished their chances of attaining college-readiness.

My sample included 2,920 students, four full graduating classes from a single ethnically and economically diverse comprehensive public high school. Student school district records were linked with community college ACT COMPASS placement assessments in mathematics for the subset of 903 students who matriculated to the community college as freshmen. In a multinomial logistic regression model, Grade 9 mathematics and the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) in mathematics were significant predictors of placement in 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-levels below college-level mathematics. The finding that the CAHSEE Math was significant is evidence that California already has in place a high stakes test for 10th graders that predicts placement into below-college-level mathematics. Not taking mathematics in grade 12 was also a significant predictor of placement in below-college-level mathematics. Fifty-five percent of the students who placed 2-, 3-, or 4-levels below college-level mathematics did not take any mathematics in their senior year of high school. I conclude with recommendations for actionable and strategic shifts in practice that this research indicates will be effective in improving college-readiness in mathematics for community college-bound students.

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