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Strategic Initiatives

Transforming Developmental Education


The Department of Higher Education (DHE) in partnership with institutions of public higher education are working together to transform developmental education and have adopted a three-pronged approach to reduce remediation and increase student success: (1) Implementation of mathematics pathways; (2) Support through the co-requisite model; (3) Use of multiple measures.


Elena Quiroz-Livanis
Chief of Staff
Assistant Commissioner for Academic Policy and Student Success 
(617) 994-6909


2010 – Present

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Student Identities

Multiple Campuses

Related Initiatives



One of the most pressing issues that affects both college retention and graduation rates—particularly for traditionally underserved students—is the significant number of students who are required to enroll in developmental education courses despite the fact that they have successfully met all high school graduation requirements. For almost a decade, the Department and public higher education institutions have evolved their approach to developmental education in order to ensure equitable outcomes for all students. Moving this important work forward and using an equity lens to identify and remove systemic barriers will ensure all students, especially African American and Latinx students, have a stronger chance at earning a postsecondary credential.

African American and Latino students in Massachusetts require developmental education coursework at a considerably higher rate (20 percentage point differential) than white students—this gap is a reflection of the disadvantaged educational background of students that attend relatively underfunded and underperforming schools.

Developmental education courses also cost students money and are non-credit-bearing. They stand in the way of students moving into credit-bearing college courses, and our research shows that students who enroll in developmental courses are significantly less likely to graduate on a timely basis. Massachusetts is dedicated to transforming developmental education and creating restructured pathways so that students can enter into credit-bearing courses faster and so that we can increase the number of students participating and succeeding in college.

We can no longer afford to inaccurately assess college readiness and place students into the traditional developmental education sequence. Our system of public higher is at a critical juncture where our institutions must shift the focus from college-ready students to becoming student-ready colleges and universities. We must better equip ourselves to support today’s students once they enroll in our postsecondary institutions. The onus is on us to ensure students who enter our institutions leave with a postsecondary credential.

2019 Common Assessment Policy

The 2019 Common Assessment Policy (CAP) marked a major milestone in developmental education reform in Massachusetts by replacing a 21-year old policy that mandated the use of a single assessment tool, Accuplacer. The 2019 CAP recommends institutions use multiple measures – including high school GPA – to make placement decisions, adopt multiple mathematics pathways, and implement co-requisite support. The policy also establishes statewide goals to increase the number of students completing gateway-level English and mathematics courses during the first year of enrollment. Institutional progress towards statewide goals will be tracked under the new Performance Measurement Reporting System (PMRS).

After years of closely following national research and monitoring results of local institutional pilots, the DHE is advising institutions of higher education to use high school GPA to assess college-readiness and place students into credit-bearing English and mathematics courses. There is little evidence to support the continued use of a high-stakes standardized exam for assessment and placement. Studies show how placing a student into a developmental course serves as an act of academic invalidation and can ultimately lead to these students stopping out. Research also suggests the use of high school GPA as part of a multiple measures approach to course assignment improves the accuracy of the placement process and better facilitates student progression into and through college-level coursework.

Additionally, there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of traditional remediation. In order to meet statewide goals, institutions will need to adopt the co-requisite model and implement multiple mathematics pathways. The co-requisite model allows students who would benefit from additional support to receive just-in-time remediation while receiving academic validation by being placed directly into a college-level course. Additionally, implementation of multiple mathematics pathways will ensure students complete the appropriate mathematics course for their major.


Previous Initiatives

Task Force on Transforming Developmental Math Education

In response to a October 2013 report from the Task Force on Transforming Developmental Math Education, the Board of Higher Education approved a series of pilot initiatives aimed at helping students advance more quickly to credit-bearing courses while obtaining the skills needed for college-level work. The Board voted to:

  • Set Academic Year 2014–15 as a period of experimentation when campuses where allowed to pilot new placement criteria, specifically high school GPA or limited variations. The BHE extended the period of experimentation and evaluation in June 2015 (see PDF AAC 15-40) in order toto collect additional data on the success of students in credit-bearing courses;
  • Encourage institutions to revise the content, sequencing, and timeframe of their developmental math offerings;
  • Urge campuses to design general “academic pathways” for all students, including math sequences consistent with the academic requirements of each pathway or “meta-major,” such as social sciences, liberal arts, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math);
  • Set an intermediate fall 2018 goal of increasing by 20% the rate of students completing a first gateway-level course within two years of enrollment; and
  • Authorize the Commissioner to convene an implementation team to promote best practices by campuses during the 2014–15 academic year.
Campus GPA Pilots & Policy

In January 2016, the Board voted to extend the period of experimentation of the developmental math campus GPA pilots through the 2018-2019 academic year.  During this period, public higher education institutions may use the placement standards listed below for recent high school graduates (a student who has graduated from high school within the last three years):

  • Pilot A1 Standard: 2.7 GPA or above
  • Pilot A2 Standard: 2.7 GPA and a “B” or higher in Algebra II
  • Pilot A3 Standard: 2.7 GPA and four years of high school math

The Board also accepted the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute (UMDI) Final Report, A Qualitative Study on the Developmental Education Strategies in Mathematics Pilot Initiative.

Designing Mathematics Pathways

Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago charged the Math Pathways Subcommittee of the Task Force on Transforming Developmental Math Education with exploring the benefits and implications of multiple math pathways and with developing recommendations for increasing success in mathematics that will:

  • Ensure students take the appropriate math for their major;
  • Increase alignment between college-level and developmental mathematics across the three segments of public higher education to promote on-time completion; and
  • Increase transferability of math courses and applicability across the three segments of public higher education.

The Math Pathways Subcommittee of the Task Force on Transforming Developmental Math Education built upon the work that began during the MassTransfer Pathways process, when mathematics faculty from all 28 undergraduate-serving institutions came together to build a statewide transfer pathway in Mathematics. The DHE partnered with the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin and joined other states that were committed to bringing multiple math pathways to scale under the Dana Center’s Mathematics Pathways to Completion project. By partnering with the Dana Center, Massachusetts has also adopted the four principles2 of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways Model (DCMP).

The Math Pathways Subcommittee presented a series of recommendations (below) and the final report was accepted by the Board in January 2018.

  • Recommendation I: In an effort to ensure students complete the right mathematics course for their major, Massachusetts institutions of public higher education should develop at least four math pathways: Calculus, Elementary Education, Quantitative Reasoning, and Statistics.
  • Recommendation II: MassTransfer Associate-to-Bachelor (A2B) mapped pathway disciplines should identify the appropriate default or recommended mathematics for their major.
  • Recommendation III: Students who require remediation should have the opportunity to complete their college-level mathematics course within one year of enrollment, preferably within a co-requisite model.
  • Recommendation IV: The DHE should develop a course completion indicator (“flag”) for all courses that satisfy Quantitative Reasoning requirements. This will improve the DHE’s data collection and the ability to track student progress.
  • Recommendation V: The Department of Higher Education should work with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to ensure alignment between K-12 and postsecondary course expectations and requirements.

PDF AAC 18-16 Acceptance of the Final Report of the Task Force on Transforming Developmental Math Education – Mathematics Pathways Subcommittee

Past Events

2018 9-16 Mathematics Alignment Summit

Held on September 16, 2018, this summit was designed to bring Massachusetts public institutions of higher education and high schools together to launch a plan to collaborative design vertically aligned mathematics pathways to support student success.


  • Inform the high school community about higher education math pathways, and complementary placement and co-requisite support strategies.
  • Build capacity amongst K-12 and higher education partners to be able to vertically align math content in order for high school graduates to be college-learner ready on day one.
  • Establish clear next steps to implement vertically aligned pathways.
  • Determine plan to share information and planning beyond the districts who have representatives in attendance. 


2018 Math Pathways Advisor Workshop

This workshop was intended help faculty and advising staff address the challenges of implementing math pathways at their institutions. The overall outcome of the workshop was for campus teams to create an action plan to ensure all students are well served by the institution’s mathematics pathways. The workshop was designed to promote discussion and learning within and across teams on a number of topics, including collaboration between mathematics and advising departments, approaches and techniques associated with advising for mathematics pathways, and how to communicate mathematics pathways information.

Outcomes: By the end of the Workshop, participants would...

  • Understand mathematics pathways and the recommendations of the Designing Math Pathways Working Group.
  • Understand how academic advising fits into the successful implementation of mathematics pathways.
  • Identify strategies for effective collaboration between the mathematics department, advising and other student affairs personnel.
  • Learn about various advising theories as they relate to advising for mathematics pathways.
  • Develop a basic action plan of next steps to take back to their campus to assist with implementation, building campus connection or modifying their current processes.


2018 Co-requisite at Scale Statewide Institute

Over the past several years, the Department of Higher Education (DHE) has been focused on increasing the number of students who enter and succeed in college-level English and mathematics courses. There are several initiatives underway to help advance these efforts, and we have adopted a three-pronged approach to reduce remediation and increase student success:

  • Assess students properly for credit-bearing courses using multiple measures;
  • Ensure that students are taking and completing the appropriate math for their major;
  • Give students who require remediation access to co-requisite courses in math, reading, and writing.

This Institute sought to bring partners from public higher education institutions together to discuss adopting the co-requisite model at scale.



2017 Designing Math Pathways Workshop

This workshop supported college and university teams to begin and/or deepen work to develop and implement math pathways aligned with the recommendations from the Massachusetts Math Pathways Subcommittee. Through this interactive workshop, teams explored key steps in math pathways implementation, create short-term actions plans and learn about free resources available to support institutional work.



2016 Transforming Developmental Math Education Conference

The Department of Higher Education, in partnership with the Guided Pathways to Success in STEM TAACCCT Round IV Statewide Office, organized a statewide conference and invited campus administrators and math faculty.  The conference highlight promising practices around alternative math pathways, acceleration, alternative placement measures, co-requisite math courses, and other models developed to support our students. 




Complete College America
Massachusetts Association of Community College
The University of Texas at Austin – Charles A. Dana Center