Montana Digital Academy wins regional award for helping students hone math skills

Robert Currie and Ryan Schrenk of Montana Digital Academy located at the University of Montana, accept the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education Outstanding Work (WOW) Award from Mollie McGill (center), WICHE Senior Director of Operations and Membership. (Courtesy photo)

A student math readiness online program developed and implemented by Montana Digital Academy at the University of Montana was one of five recipients of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Outstanding Work Award.

EdReady Montana has helped over 100,000 students and adult learners fill gaps in their math skills for free.

The program guides students through a personalized path to overcome their mathematics challenges before moving onto an university placement test or course.

Since 2004, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, or WICHE, has presented the award to colleges, universities and organizations who create innovative, technology based solutions to challenges in higher education.

“Being able to be recognized by this organization, of which the University of Montana is a member, is really a great honor and it really helps to amplify the notion that EdReady can help college students, but it also helps all kinds of other students and adult learners across the board,” Robert Currie, executive director of MTDA said.

The program was financially supported by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation in 2013, and since 2014, about 487 organizations have used EdReady Montana to help students improve their skills. This keeps students out of remedial level classes, which saves time and money.

Middle school and high school students make up about two-thirds of those who use the program, Currie said, and provides tutoring in the basics, like addition and subtraction, and in more complex areas, like statistics and calculus.

Students take a short assessment that shows areas in their mathematical skills that need improvement. Videos, online textbooks and practice problems are offered through the program and used to help the student. After achieving a certain number of percentage points, the student can move on to the next concept or unit.

“Students who decide that’s the math class they need, can begin working on that, and once they’ve gotten to this 80, 90, 100 percent level on their EdReady work, they can bypass that placement test and go right into that class. Really what it does is reduce anxiety for non-math majors who really don’t have a lot of confidence in their math skills,” Currie said.

Lauren Fern, a math professor at the University of Montana, uses EdReady Montana to test students for classes that require specific skills. The program modules also help non-traditional students re-learn certain math skills or re-evaluate their math course placement.

“What we did was we built modules in EdReady that contain all the skills that we think are necessary for success, and if students complete that module, then we use that in place of an actual placement exam,” Fern said. “We believe that students, if they actually put in that sort of work and show us that they’re proficient in those skills, that’s more indicative of being ready for a course than just a single placement test.”

Fern has noticed that the program has helped students and their overall placement scores. This semester, her course load involves 500 students who have unique skills, backgrounds and needs.

“I’ve had students who took the math placement and didn’t place where they wanted to and did the EdReady program. Across the board, if they do the EdReady program, they score higher,” Fern said.

According to a 2016 report by the UM Foundation, 43 incoming freshmen in the fall of 2014  who were slated for remedial math classes, enrolled in EdReady Montana. After spending about a dozen hours using the program, 86 percent raised their math placement scores.

According to Currie, Montana is the first state to offer this kind of program statewide and has been used in over 40 states across the nation. He hopes that it will continue to grow and aid students in other topic areas as well.

“We’re the first state to offer it statewide, so we’re really, quite frankly, are kind of leading the nation or the charge with EdReady and in utilization,” Currie said.