Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A mixed methods explanatory study of the failure/drop rate for freshman STEM calculus students
by Worthley, Mary, Ph.D., Colorado State University, 2013, 191; 3565581
Abstract (Summary)

In a national context of high failure rates in freshman calculus courses, the purpose of this study was to understand who is struggling, and why. High failure rates are especially alarming given a local environment where students have access to a variety of academic, and personal, assistance. The sample consists of students at Colorado State University (CSU) who attended a course in freshman calculus from Fall 2007 to Fall 2012. An explanatory sequential mixed methods approach was used in this study.

Using data from CSU's Registrar's Office and Mathematics department, descriptive statistics highlighted several student attributes worth pursuing. Fall and spring cohorts have a different make up and different outcomes. Hence this study concentrated on the fall cohort, which comprises mainly of freshmen. The combination of attributes that produced the strongest prediction of student's final result in calculus were Colorado Commission on Higher Education index scores, CSU Mathematics department placement test scores, and calculus repeat status (R2=.30, n=1325). For Fall 2012, these attributes were combined with student motivation and student strategies constructs, measured using the MSLQ instrument. The combination giving the strongest prediction of student's first mid-term examination results (R2=.34, n=124) included CSU Mathematics department placement test scores, along with MSLQ constructs test anxiety, and self-efficacy for learning and performance. However, using logistic regression only 38.7% of the students who failed were correctly predicted to fail.

Former students of CSU's calculus course aimed at freshmen STEM students were interviewed or surveyed, in an attempt to probe how students experience this course. Several common elements emerged. Students were dedicating vast amounts of time to this course. There was a common belief this course could be passed if the student worked hard enough. The difference between those who succeeded and those who did not appeared to relate to how this study time was spent. Those who floundered often struggled to locate appropriate help, although they were quite aware they needed assistance. Many of those interviewed also avoided working with other students. Reasons cited ranged from claims of being individual learners, to frustration at finding a group who had the same study goals. Some non-traditional students were also alienated by the prospect of working with `teenagers'.

Two other results from the analysis of student interviews suggested reanalyzing the quantitative data and including student's prior history with mathematics, as well as if the student was non-traditional. The combination of attributes that gave the strongest relationship (R2=.40, n=101) were CSU Mathematics department placement test results, combined with MSLQ constructs test anxiety, self-efficacy for learning and performance, organization, as well as the student's own appraisal of the quality of mathematics teaching they received in high school. However, the ability to accurately predict if a student will fail was minimal.

Focusing on students who do fail, three groups of students of interest were isolated: those who have yet to declare their major, 'non-traditional' students, particularly those enrolled in the eight a.m. class, and, curiously, those students who choose to enroll in the ten a.m. class.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gloeckner, Gene, Kennedy, Paul
Commitee: Banning, James, Siller, Thomas
School: Colorado State University
Department: Education (School of )
School Location: United States -- Colorado
Source: DAI-A 74/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Mathematics education, Higher education
Keywords: Calculus, Mixed methods, Postsecondary, Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
Publication Number: 3565581
ISBN: 978-1-303-15514-7
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