Panel Paper: Re-Taking Algebra: Does Online or Face-to-Face Credit Recovery Help Students Get Back on Track?

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Comiskey (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jessica Heppen, American Institutes for Research

Failing core academic courses during the first year of high school is a strong signal of trouble to come. In particular, students who fail Algebra I 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 allow students to retake failed classes. Online learning has emerged as a promising and 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 controlled trial designed to address this gap. The study provided resources to CPS high schools to implement summer credit recovery courses to ninth graders who failed Algebra I in their first year of high school. In a total of 17 CPS 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 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 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 rest of high school, including graduation. In both conditions, 47% of students in the study graduated within four years of entering 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. Results suggest that students in study schools were not more likely to get on track than students in other schools that did not expand early credit recovery options. Except for being more likely to have Algebra I credit, students who recovered credit early in high school otherwise continued to resemble students who failed Algebra I but did not recover, rather than students who passed Algebra I in ninth grade. This apparent lack of payoff is important to consider in light of current trends to increase the use of credit recovery, particularly through online courses, to help students make up credits needed for graduation.