Panel Paper: The Struggle to Pass Algebra I in Urban High Schools: Online Vs. Face-to-Face Credit Recovery for At-Risk Students

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 4:00 PM
Washington Ballroom (Westin Georgetown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jessica Heppen1, Kirk Walters1, Elaine Allensworth2, Nicholas Sorensen1, Amber Pareja2, Suzanne Stachel1 and Takako Nomi3, (1)American Institutes for Research, (2)University of Chicago, (3)St. Louis University
The consequences of failing core academic courses during the first year of high school are dire, and students who fail Algebra I in particular are very unlikely to graduate. For example, in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), only 13% of 9th graders who fail both semesters of Algebra I go on to graduate in four years. Identifying ways that students can get back on track is of utmost policy importance.

Credit recovery programs offer students an opportunity to retake failed classes. As schools across the country struggle to re-engage students who are “off track,” online learning has emerged as a promising and popular strategy for credit recovery. Yet despite the growing use of online courses for credit recovery, the evidence base is thin.

This paper describes the design and implementation of a randomized control trial designed to address this gap. The study is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, which provided resources to CPS high schools to implement online and f2f Algebra I credit recovery courses during the summers of 2011 and 2012.  The study examines (1) the impact of online Algebra I for credit recovery against the standard face-to-face (f2f) version of the course, and (2) the effects of offering expanded credit recovery options with online algebra, relative to business as usual summer programming. Study outcomes include students’ short and long-term math achievement, engagement, course-taking patterns, dropout/ persistence in school and, ultimately, graduation status.

This paper will present the design, methods, and interim results from this experimental study in which we randomly assigned a total of 1,383 students in summers 2011 and 2012 to take either an online course (provided by Aventa Learning/K12) or a f2f course (taught by a CPS teacher) for algebra credit recovery. The paper will describe analyses testing the impact of online vs. f2f credit recovery on measures of student engagement, likelihood of passing, grades, end-of-course math scores, math courses taken and grades earned the following year, and scores on standardized achievement tests including the PLAN (“pre-ACT") test. This paper will also provide a full complement of results from detailed analyses of the implementation of the credit recovery courses. These include analyses of archived data from the online course related to student progress, analyses of the content and rigor of the f2f courses, and a summary of grading policies used in both types of courses.

Thus far, interim results for the two cohorts of students appear to be mixed, with some significant differences on outcomes proximal to the summer courses (e.g. grades in credit recovery courses) that favor the f2f condition. Overall, more than 60% of students across the two conditions recovered their Algebra I credits—these students may be more likely to get on track than other at-risk students who did not attempt credit recovery. Together, findings from the study will shed light on some of the most pressing educational issues facing urban schools in their endeavor to support their most at-risk students.