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Longitudinal Success of Calculus I Reform

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Mathematics Division Technical Session 3

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Paper Authors


Doug Bullock Boise State University

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Doug Bullock is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Boise State University. His educational research interests include impacts of pedagogy on STEM student success and retention.

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Kathrine E. Johnson


Janet Callahan Boise State University Orcid 16x16

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Janet Callahan is Chair of Materials Science and Engineering at Boise State University. Dr. Callahan received her Ph.D. in Materials Science, M.S. in Metallurgy, and B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Connecticut. Her educational research interests include freshman engineering programs, math education, K-12 STEM curriculum and accreditation, and retention and recruitment of STEM majors.

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This paper describes the second year of an ongoing project to transform calculus instruction at State University. Over the past several years, Calculus I has undergone a complete overhaul that has involved a movement from a collection of independent, uncoordinated, personalized, lecture-based sections, into a single coherent multi-section course with an active-learning pedagogical approach. The overhaul also significantly impacted the course content and learning objectives. The project is now in its fifth semester and has reached a steady state where the reformed practices are normative within the subset of instructors who might be called upon to teach Calculus I. Gains from the project include a rise in the pass rate in Calculus I, greater student engagement, greater instructor satisfaction, a general shift toward active learning pedagogies, and the emergence of a strong collaborative teaching community. Project leaders are seeking to expand these gains to other areas of the curriculum and to broaden the community of instructors who are fully accepting of the reforms. Common concerns expressed by resisters include suspicion that pass rate gains are merely grade inflation or weakened standards, and that altering the traditional content of Calculus I leaves students unprepared for Calculus II. These concerns are not limited to resisters. Project participants and external stakeholders are well aware that success in Calculus I must propagate to be of value. It would be irresponsible to push Calculus I reform without solid evidence that students are well prepared for Calculus II and other courses. It is highly likely that curriculum reforms at many institutions endure similar critiques. In this paper we develop a response that we hope will be useful to change agents and campus leaders in many other settings. We address concerns about Calculus II readiness by conducting a natural experiment, tracking two cohorts of students through Calculus I and into Calculus II. The treatment cohort consists of students who reach Calculus II after passing the reformed Calculus I. The control cohort consists of students who reach Calculus II after passing non-reformed Calculus I at State University. There experiment has no designed randomizing, but enrollment data shows that both cohorts spread out across all sections of Calculus II with apparent randomness. Our research question is “Does the treatment cohort perform any worse than the control cohort in Calculus II?” Data on pass rates and grades in Calculus II will show that the answer is “No”.

Bullock, D., & Johnson, K. E., & Callahan, J. (2016, June), Longitudinal Success of Calculus I Reform Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25580

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