Piloting Acceleration on a Large Scale
In Spring 2011, Chaffey College launched its “Fast Track” initiative with 52 sections of accelerated courses, including not only English and Math, but also ESL, Spanish, Biology, and Astronomy.
The initiative began in Chaffey’s Enrollment and Success Management Committee. Members of the group read and discussed Hern and Snell’s article “Exponential Attrition and the Promise of Acceleration in Developmental English and Math,” then invited faculty from neighboring Citrus College to visit campus and share their own experience with acceleration. Initially, some Chaffey instructors were hesitant about acceleration. But, says Dean of Instructional Support Laura Hope, the college’s culture of experimentation and risk-tolerance helped them move ahead quickly. “We asked ourselves, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’”
Chaffey’s Fast Track initiative focuses on shortening the time-frame for students to complete requirements and eliminating the exit points between courses in their sequences. This currently involves three different models of acceleration.
Separate courses are packaged together in a single semester, taught by the same instructor, with students enrolling in both courses at the same time. The structure eliminates the exit point between classes, where students who pass one level often do not enroll in the next. Chaffey’s first round of compressed courses included:
- Two 3-unit English courses offered as a 6-unit package (2 levels of developmental English combined, 1 level below combined with English 1A, and English 1A combined with English 1B);
- Two 4-unit Spanish classes (1A, 1B) offered as an 8-unit package;
- A “four-pack” of science and math (total of 18 units) that enables many non-math/science majors to complete their requirements in one semester: Biology (4 units), Biology Lab (3 units), Astronomy (3 units), Intermediate Algebra (4 units), and College Algebra (4 units).
Short-Term, Intensive Courses
This model involves 8-week intensive classes that give students more flexible starting points within the 18-week semester. The increase in class time each week also expands the relationship-building among students, and between students and teachers, over what is typical in the full-length semester. Disciplines offering courses in this format include Accounting, Anthropology, Child Development, English, ESL, Computer Science, Spanish, Psychology, and Sociology.
Avoidance Model in Developmental Math, Combined with Short-Term Intensive Course
Students who place into arithmetic (4 levels below transfer Math) can enroll in an intensive 3-week review course and then re-take the placement test. Of the approximately 400 students who have participated to date, 80% of the students who complete the class have been able to re-test directly into Intermediate Algebra after three weeks, avoiding three classes in the sequence. Students can then enroll in a late-start intensive section of that course. If successful, they complete their developmental Math requirements in one semester, rather than the four required under the traditional sequence.
Despite the initial caution of some faculty, many of those teaching in the new models have discovered the benefits cited by faculty in other accelerated programs. Melissa Utsler, English instructor, noted that she “has never loved teaching so much.” Emily Avila, Biology instructor, taught an accelerated version and a traditional version of Biology 1 during Spring 2011. The accelerated class not only increased success by 20 percentage points, but Avila found students were more cohesive and engaged than in her traditional class, developing a strong bond and becoming “more supportive of each other than [she] had ever seen before.”
During a series of panels this semester, the first round of accelerated faculty have shared their experiences with the faculty who will teach accelerated sections in the fall. Among their observations from the early accelerated courses: a higher level of student focus, greater retention and success among students who would have been at risk in the standard format, a greater sense of community in the classroom, and increased help-seeking behavior among students.
So far, student retention and success have been notably stronger in the accelerated courses than in non-accelerated sections of the same course: 90.3% of students were retained in these courses, compared to 83.1% in the traditional model; 67.4% of accelerated students passed their courses, compared with a 57% in non-accelerated sections. (Accelerated data from 23 sections with reported grades to date, comparison data from F 2007-F 2010.)
Dean Laura Hope reports that in 2011-12, the college plans to offer 70 accelerated sections each semester in a range of disciplines, and these will be highlighted in a special “Fast Track” section of the course schedule. Chaffey will also explore the use of Supplemental Instruction leaders in accelerated classes. Over the next 18 months, she says, the college will study the outcomes of their accelerated offerings closely, tracking not only success and retention within a single semester but students’ sequence completion rates over time.
“At the end of several semesters of experimentation and dialogue,” Hope says, “we’re going to know a lot better about what works for us.”
As Chaffey moves into Phase Three of Implementation: Refining and Expanding Accelerated Approaches, Hope expects that the college will build upon its current models and consider approaches that involve curricular redesign, such as models using “backwards design” to ensure that all of the content covered inside existing developmental sequences directly aligns with the most essential learning goals of college-level courses.
For more information, contact Laura Hope, Dean of Instructional Support, Chaffey College, Laura.Hope@chaffey.edu