Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Mathematics (Mathematics Education Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Mathematical Sciences

Committee Chair

Libby Knott

Commitee Members

Arlene Walker-Andrews, James Hirstein, David Patterson


college mathematics, developmental mathematics, mathematics performance, mathematics placement testing, persistence, retention, triage


University of Montana


This quantitative study investigates a number of parameters associated with the first-year student’s math experience at The University of Montana: performance in the course and mathematics placement in the fall of 2005. The study sample is comprised of 1,044 first-year students who enroll in one of six selected 100-level math courses offered by the Department of Mathematical Sciences, ranging from intermediate algebra to calculus. Average grade earned by first-year students varies from a low of 1.72 in intermediate algebra to a high of 3.37 in applied calculus. The study finds that a first-year student’s ACT or SAT math score is only weakly associated with his performance in a first-year mathematics course. Twenty percent of students elect to take the optional university-administered placement test; the association is stronger between their score on this test and performance in a first semester math course. In general, students who comply with their recommendation earn a higher average grade than those who enroll in a course above their placement; students who enroll in a course below their recommended placement do even better. The exception to this pattern is the compliance findings for intermediate algebra. The study identified a sub-sample of 348 first-year students who had also enrolled in one of two English composition courses during their first-year in attendance at The University. Using a triage analysis technique developed for this study, three distinct groups were identified: Category 1 students who succeed in both their first-year mathematics and composition courses, Category 2 students who are unsuccessful in both courses, and Category 3 students who successfully complete one course but not the other. The study finds that 70% of first-year students in the sample are in Category 1, 9% in Category 2, and 21% in Category 3. Category 3 was further subdivided in order to identify the percentage of students who did not succeed in mathematics but did in English composition (Category 3M – 18% of the total first-year population) and the percentage of students who succeed in mathematics but not composition (Category 3E – 3%). The study concludes with recommendations for improving the performance of first-year students in mathematics, and an estimate of the resulting improvement in persistence and retention.



© Copyright 2007 Sharon Beth O'Hare