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90% of 200 CUNY Students Can't Do Basic Algebra Problems

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the so-that's-like-8-students? dept.

Education 20

vvaduva writes "Basic algebra involving fractions and decimals stumped a group of City University of New York freshmen — suggesting city schools aren't preparing them, a CUNY report shows. During their first math class at one of CUNY's four-year colleges, 90% of 200 students tested couldn't solve a simple algebra problem, the report by the CUNY Council of Math Chairs found. Only a third could convert a fraction into a decimal."

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Zeroth Post! (2, Insightful)

mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) | more than 4 years ago | (#30078704)

Wow - I can't believe that this story has been up for half an hour with no replies.

Are Slashdotters already so cynical about our ongoing demographic catastrophe that they no longer have the energy to wring their hands and pull their hair at the thought of our nation's looming innumeracy?

Re:Zeroth Post! (1)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30079164)

... innumeracy

You mean illiteracy. But I thought that applied only to reading. I wonder if there's another word that applies to an inability to do math.

The above is intended as sarcasm, but may have come across as stupidity instead.

Cuny students (1)

tacarat (696339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30079318)

Most of the /. folks are looking for their favorite lesbian porn clips.

Who needs math... (1)

SirBigSpur (1677306) | more than 4 years ago | (#30078962)

when you got puters! Seriously this is just sad...

Re:Who needs math... (1)

Seedy2 (126078) | more than 4 years ago | (#30081662)

Yeah, this is why when I hand the kid behind the counter a penny with the bills he has to go get a manager to make change. (fictionalized to protect the stupid) kid: $3.76 me: hands $4... then a penny. kid: I already put in $4 ... tries to change it ... thinks ... fails ... stares. Hey can you help me with this. manager: hands me $0.25 And of course now it's getting hard to find managers that can help, because the people who couldn't do the math before, are now the managers of the new crop of kids who can't do simple math. I have difficulty understanding how one can get out of high school without a basic understanding of algebra (was required for graduation at my school) but there are kids out there who can't do addition or subtraction. How do you get IN to high school without that? I guess the same way you get in to HS without being able to read.

what's the algebra? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30079162)

I only S(kimmed)TFA, but i see no mention of what a "basic" algebra problem is. Does anybody know?

  I hate what our news has become, all "point" with no "fact"...

GPA inflation? (1)

alexwcovington (855979) | more than 4 years ago | (#30079342)

From TFA:

John Jay College sophomore Ahmed Elshafaie, 19, who graduated from Long Island City High School, said he avoids math classes.

"I don't want to ruin my GPA," he said. "High school standards were really low."

Maybe what US high schools need is a difficulty multiplier for GPAs. Of course, that would require some sort of national standard that would have somebody crying foul.

Not just an American problem (3, Interesting)

yuggler (521092) | more than 4 years ago | (#30079640)

I've tried to find the original report, but it doesn't seem to be online. Too bad, what can be called a "simple algebra problem" might not be the same thing for a freshman as a professor. We have similar problems in Sweden. The solution is somewhat different though, we lower expectations instead. Many swedish universities have lowered their admission standards. We have a national standard for high school courses, with math courses going from A to E-level. (The F course, mostly covering discrete mathematics, was removed about 15 years ago.) Many universities no longer require the E-level course for their master programs in science, which means that new students in for example engineering, physics and computer science haven't heard of complex numbers, matrixes or differentials. Is this the beginning to the end of math? Probably not, but it means that new students have to spend their first months learning stuff that was common knowledge just 15-20 years ago. Computers and calculators are not the culprits, but I don't know who else to blame.

Re:Not just an American problem (1)

Seedy2 (126078) | more than 4 years ago | (#30081784)

I don't know about you guys, but here in the US it seems like we are sliding in the direction of high school being more like elementary school, and the first couple of years of university being what high school used to be. Parents blame the schools if their kids are stupid, and insist everyone "who tries" gets a 4.0 GPA, so nobody's feeling get hurt.
<sarcasm> Since, as everyone knows 3.5 GPA might as well be an 'F' the whole GPA thing is meaningless.</sarcasm>
Even in university, GPA is far more important than actual learning, at undergrad level anyway.

(for those that don't know US nomenclature highschool = last 3 or 4 years before university, elementary school is first 4-6 years after finger-painting 101.)

Nothing New (2, Interesting)

TheTyrannyOfForcedRe (1186313) | more than 4 years ago | (#30081012)

My public high school was teaching fractions and decimals in the 11th and 12th grade. The majority of kids never saw algebra in high school.

Those in the "college track" saw only rudimentary algebra before graduation.

The "advanced track" had algebra in the 8th and 9th grades. Geometry was offered in the 10th grade, and in the 11th grade there was trig. Seniors were offered "pre-caclulus" which I would describe as trig deja vu.

When I was in university, all of the public colleges and universities in the area offered introductory math courses in "pre-algebra" which I would describe as fractions and decimals. The overwhelming majority of all freshmen ended up taking them. Only the kids majoring in math, science, or engineering had with calculus or other advanced math their freshman year.

I used to help friends from high school with their college "pre-algebra" coursework. One of these girls was also taking a college science course that seemed to be at the elementary school level. Topics included magnetism, the water cycle, glaciers, and other extremely basic natural science stuff. The cousework consisted of memorizing vocabulary words and basic definitions.

Re:Nothing New (1)

timothy (36799) | more than 4 years ago | (#30081328)

Unfortunately, there is no "sideways" moderation / tagging, or I'd mark this "sad." (Not that I have ever been hot at math; apparently the genes coding for that skill skipped at least my part of the generation. But college courses at the elementary school level, that's nuts.)

timothy

Re:Nothing New (1)

CubeDude213 (678340) | more than 4 years ago | (#30081830)

I'll see your anecdote and raise you another. My university (a private institution in Texas) offered three sections of pre-calculus this semester (about 20 students in each section). However, they filled *eight* sections of Calc 1. Pre-calc is required for admission and the class is only for those who were admitted to the university but failed the mathematics placement test. Calculus is required and this is a *liberal arts* school. Most students are not science or engineering majors. I don't know why your university had such low standards. Maybe they need to tighten up their admissions requirements (or you should've transferred to a more rigorous school).

Re:Nothing New (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#30087146)

Wow! I've already introduced my son to fractions and he can compare two fractions reasonably well most times. I hope to get him into basic algebra next year. He is six.

Most of education is about expectations.

Regents Exams? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#30081768)

I went to school in NJ and several teachers had previously taught in NY. They alway spoke (in terror) of these Regents exams, which were tests students had to pass to move up to the next grade.

Quick googling finds this test [nysedregents.org] from last summer, which on first glance looks like fair coverage of basic algebra.

So, have requirements changed or was the CUNY test absurd?

Re:Regents Exams? (1)

story645 (1278106) | more than 4 years ago | (#30082390)

[quote]So, have requirements changed or was the CUNY test absurd?[/quote]
Possibly both. CUNY requirements are getting stricter again 'cause of the various issues with open admissions-requirements have been sliding for 30 years-and the test could have been strange.

Plus the math regents are all sorts of wonky in their own right. They've changed the math standard twice in the past 9 years, going from the sequential I,II,III sequence (roughly algebra, geometry, trig, one each June) to Math A and B (algebra + 1/2 geometry and test in january of 2nd year, 1/2 geometery+ trig and test in june of 3rd year) and then back to sequential, renamed Algebra, Geometry, and Trig (or something of the sort) 'cause Math A and B failed so badly.

What do you expect for $19,000/kid? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30082224)

We spend >$19,000/year/kid in the NY public schools. You expect them to LEARN?

Open Admissions (2, Interesting)

story645 (1278106) | more than 4 years ago | (#30082304)

I go to one of the CUNY's, even had one of the paper authors as a professor. Our admissions requirements are downright sad, and the kids who can't even muster those can usually get in as transfers from community schools or by getting into one of the many remedial programs. A lot of these kids end up either flunking out or ending up as liberal arts majors. (Writing skills are just as pathetic, but it's more complicated because of the large ESL population, which the administration doesn't really want to admit we have.)
Though I'm totally curious about the sampling bias here, 'cause a first math class at CUNY could be elementary math, pre-calc or anything in the calc sequence, so lots of freshman don't have the same first math course. The amount of kids who can't do fractions in an elementary math course is much higher then the amount of freshman who can't do fractions in calc II. It's also the daily news, which is about as tabloid as you get. I'm also curious how other schools stack up, and especially how majors/course of study effects the distribution.

Re:Open Admissions (1)

story645 (1278106) | more than 4 years ago | (#30082446)

I'll pre-empt the grammar nazis:
CUNYs, not CUNY's
majors affect/course of study affects, not effects

Boo-hoo!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30082996)

What's amazing is that 10% were able to pass the test. Why do they always pick the dumb-ass liberal arts schools for these surveys? Why not pick a good school with educated students pursuing real degrees instead of a "check-the-box" degree shop?

Open Adminissions and Catering to... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30103564)

... people who have no business going to college such as the the non-intellectually inclined, those who have no love of reading, those who have no work ethic.

People confuse making higher education accessible with dumbing down requirements. This is exactly the problem at universities and colleges in general.

Check out the documentary "Declining by Degrees".http://www.decliningbydegrees.org/show-synopsis.html

One featured student was a guy that would get drunk Thursday through Sunday and would pass all of his exams and got on the Dean's List.

Colleges have been pandering to their customers - students - and have inadvertently shortchanged them. It's like a doctor telling you to take it easy since it hurts to exercise and you weigh 300 pounds.

Colleges has to stop this remediation. That was the job of the high school. Also blame social promotion that shuffles these kids even though they know nothing.

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