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Remedial Math Models: A Review

If I told you that you just needed to do one thing to increase the likelihood of being able to reach your goal of going on your dream summer vacation from a 35% chance to a 70% chance of success, would you do it? One study by Silver, Saunders, & Zarate found that passing algebra 1 during freshman year had that same impact on students ability to reach their goal of graduating high school on time. They found that students who fail algebra 1 during ninth grade have a 35% chance of graduating high school on time, versus a 70% of graduating on time simply by passing Algebra 1 in ninth grade. And in case that didn’t get your attention, another study by Fong, Jaquet, & Finkelstein found 40% of all students in a large California school district repeat algebra 1.

Something has to change. As a teacher, do you feel helpless about how to reach and engage your most struggling math learners? As a Principal or district leader, do you feel unsure about which remedial model is best?

As a high school algebra 1 and remedial math teacher, I have worked in three different high schools, in settings from urban charter schools to large comprehensive suburban public high schools, and I have seen and taught many remedial and intervention math models. But which remedial math model is best for students? I’ve done some research and the following is a review of my findings of three common remedial math models: the double dose model, computer recovery, and repeat algebra 1.

1. Double Dose Math

What is it: Students (usually 9th graders) are placed in two periods of math per day.

What the research says: When Chicago Public Schools implemented double dose algebra in 2007, a study was conducted to measure results. Here is a summary of their process and findings from Cortes, Goodman, & Nomi: “CPS also strongly advised schools to schedule their algebra support courses in three specific ways. First, double-dose algebra students should have the same teacher for their two periods of algebra. Second, the two algebra periods should be offered consecutively. Third, double-dose students should take the algebra support class with the same students who are in their regular algebra class.” And the findings? “Although the intervention was not particularly effective for the average affected student, the fact that it improved high school graduation and college enrollment rates for even a subset of low-performing and at-risk students is extraordinarily promising when targeted at the appropriate students.”

2. Online Credit Recovery

What is it: Students who have already failed algebra 1 enroll in an online algebra credit recovery class, usually outside of the school day.

What the research says: An article from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) says, “Instead of challenging students to raise their performance to the level they must reach to be successful, too often credit recovery ‘solutions’ have lowered the bar for passing. Among the worst offenders in this regard are some products and programs that call themselves ‘online.’ These are often computer-based software programs that are low-cost, have very low levels (if any) of teacher involvement, and require very little of students in demonstrating proficiency.” However, they also offer some hope found in online competency-based programs instead of credit-based programs and highlight Florida Virtual School as a case study who uses competency-based summer credit recovery courses which boast the following results: “Success rates for students recovering credit have been remarkably similar to rates for the entire FLVS student population. In the 2012–13 school year, FLVS students who took designated credit recovery courses had a passing rate of 80.1%.”

3. Repeat Algebra 1

What it is: Put the students back in algebra 1 the following year and hope for a different result, perhaps with a different teacher.

What research says: An article from US News and World Reports states, “a growing body of research is showing that when you march a teenager through the same algebra class again, it doesn’t help much… More than 80 percent of the repeaters still scored below the ‘proficient’ threshold on the state algebra test.”

So which model is best?

The answer is, yes. I know that doesn’t answer the question, but the truth is that I don’t think there is a perfect solution to this problem. There are many remedial math course options and districts need to choose an option that is going to work for them, their teachers, and their students. But there is one thing I do feel must be an integral part to any remedial math course: Building a positive, safe, and motivational classroom culture. Teachers must get to know their students, both their math abilities as well as their past math experiences, and use this information to create a safe place for students to take risks, fail forward, and be comfortable enough to engage. Author, Nicholas Sorensen Ph.D, says it best in his perspective brief for the Promoting Student Success in Algebra I (PSSA) project,

“Students fail Algebra I for a host of reasons, both academic and non-academic. Supports for struggling students need to be multifaceted—emphasizing both student preparation for Algebra I and broader motivation and engagement with school. Teachers also need the resources to assess students’ unique learning needs and tailor instruction appropriately.”

This is exactly why I started CollaboratEd Consulting. I have a passion for improving outcomes for struggling math learners and a passion for collaborating with teachers to empower them to improve the outcomes for their struggling math learners. There are hundreds of textbooks out there for leadership to choose from; online programs like iReady or Aleks, blended programs like Math 180, and book resources like Big Ideas or CPM, but what’s missing is the individuality needed to see success with remedial math learners. Working with remedial math students cannot be a one size fits all approach.

Our Solution

CollaboratEd’s consultants have successful remedial and intervention math teaching experience. We’ve been the teachers in those same classrooms with those same students. We intimately understand the unique challenges of motivating, engaging, and achieving success with struggling math learners. We utilize the power of collaboration to empower mathematics educators by:

  • Customizing curriculum development

  • Providing instructional coaching

  • Facilitating professional development that empowers remedial math teachers with the tools and strategies needed to raise student achievement

Making material more accessible to ELL’s, students with special needs, and struggling math learners is essential, but resources aren’t the most important focus. The power of partnering with CollaboratEd is in the coaching and professional development, lead by consultants who have been in your shoes and achieved student success. Teaching remedial math learners requires a different classroom approach than teaching students who are naturally motivated on their own and it’s important that teachers have a collaborative community in which to participate and grow. We would love to speak with you about your school’s or district’s individual needs and customize a collaborative plan of action for you to get the results you want and that your students deserve.

Want More? Subscribe to our website and receive, for free, an example unit of the curriculum resources we can create in collaboration with you and your staff.


Barshay, J. (2014, December). Repeating Algebra Doesn't Help Students, New California Study Finds. Retrieved from:

Cortes, K., Goodman, J., & Nomi, T. (2013). A Double Dose of Algebra. Education Next, 13(1). Retrieved from:

Fong, A. B., Jaquet, K., & Finkelstein, N. (2014). Who repeats algebra I, and how does initial

performance relate to improvement when the course is repeated? (REL 2015–059). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory West. Retrieved from

Silver, D., Saunders, M., & Zarate, E. (2008). What Factors Predict High School Graduation in the Los Angeles Unified School District (Report #14). Los Angeles, CA: California Dropout Research Project.

Smith, L. (2016, June). 3 Ways to Reboot Remedial Math Class. Retrieved from:

Sorensen, N. (2016, September). Supplementary Supports for Struggling Algebra I Students (American Institutes for Research, Perspective Brief). Retrieved from:

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