Panel Paper: Online Instruction and Outcomes over Time in High School: Implications for Equity and Achievement

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Wilson A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Carolyn J. Heinrich1, Jennifer Darling-Aduana1, Annalee Good2 and Huiping Cheng2, (1)Vanderbilt University, (2)University of Wisconsin, Madison

Online course-taking is a major and growing source of instructional programing for students, and more research is needed to identify not only trends in course taking, but also effects of online instruction on student learning and achievement. With many online courses targeting students at-risk of not graduating high school, the potential for differential access to quality learning experiences between online and traditional classroom environments could also have profound implications for equality. This research focuses on online course-taking in high schools that is increasingly accessed by students falling behind in their progress toward graduation and examines how it is used and whether students gain academically through its use. We explore in a large urban school district (Milwaukee Public Schools): who among secondary school students are taking courses online; how intensively and for what purposes, and how online instructional programming affects student outcomes, including credit accumulation, academic performance (test scores, GPAs), high school graduation, and postsecondary enrollment. We also take into consideration how the implementation of online instructional programming impedes or supports students’ academic progress and the policies and strategies at district, school or classroom levels that mediate its effectiveness in improving student learning and reducing achievement gaps.

We employ mixed methods in studying the implementation and effects of online instruction at the high school level, drawing on variation in the use of online instruction within and across schools and students over time to help identify its effects. Utilizing over seven million records of online instructional sessions linked to approximately a million student school records, we examine student experiences over the years 2010-11 to 2016-17, both longitudinally and in repeated cross-sections of linked student-vendor data. Our past work has found mostly negative associations between online course-taking and math and reading scores, credits earned and grade point averages. In this analysis, we follow students through their course-taking experiences and examine longer-term outcomes, including high school graduation and postsecondary education enrollment. We also integrate knowledge from our qualitative research on the instructional settings and delivery of online course-taking, which enables us to examine factors at the school, classroom, and student levels that have the potential to influence how online instructional tools are used. We consider the implications of our analyses for equity in educational opportunities and outcomes for students of color, low socioeconomic status, English language learners and students with special needs.