Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Struggle to Pass Algebra in Urban High Schools: Does Early Credit Recovery Help Students Get Back on Track?

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 8:50 AM
Tuttle Center (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jessica Heppen1, Nicholas Sorensen1, Elaine M. Allensworth2, Jordan Rickles1, Valerie Michelman2, Suzanne Stachel1 and Kirk Walters1, (1)American Institutes for Research, (2)University of Chicago
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 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. Online learning has emerged as a popular strategy to expand students’ opportunities to recover credits. Yet evidence about the effects of credit recovery in general and online credit recovery in particular is lacking.

This paper presents results from a randomized control trial designed to address this gap. The study provided resources to CPS high schools to implement credit recovery courses during summers 2011 and 2012 to ninth graders who failed Algebra I in their first year of high school. In a total of 17 high schools, 1,224 students were randomly assigned to take Algebra I as either an online course (provided by Aventa Learning/K12) or a face-to-face (f2f) course (taught by a CPS teacher).

The study addresses two types of questions: (1) the impact of online vs. f2f Algebra I for credit recovery, and (2) the effects over time of offering expanded credit recovery options early in high school. Outcomes include math achievement, engagement, coursetaking patterns, school persistence, and, ultimately, graduation. This paper will present findings through the third year of high school related to both types of questions.

Results show some short-term benefits for f2f over online credit recovery, but no differences on longer-term outcomes. Proximally, the online course was perceived by students as more difficult and less clear than the f2f algebra credit recovery course, and students in the f2f course had higher grades, higher pass rates, and scored significantly higher on an algebra posttest than students in the online course. However there were no significant differences by condition on any measured outcomes during the second or the third year of high school.

Importantly, most study students (71%) in both the online and f2f conditions successfully recovered algebra credit. The second set of impact questions examine whether early credit recovery has benefits for schools or students, and preliminary results suggest that aside from boosting recovery rates, it does not. Students in study schools were not more likely to get on track than students in other schools without expanded early credit recovery options, and students who recovered credit early in high school continued to resemble students who failed Algebra I but did not recover, rather than students who passed Algebra I in ninth grade. Despite this apparent lack of payoff, it remains possible that early credit recovery will have a positive effect on on-time graduation rates because passing Algebra I is required for graduation.

The authors will consider possible reasons for the results to date and discuss the implications of the findings with the audience and the other panel participants.