Poster Paper: Expanding Access to 8th Grade Algebra: Does Readiness Matter?

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Nicholas Sorensen1, Kirk Walters1, Whitney Cade1, Marisa de la Torre2, Jordan Rickles1 and Ryan Eisner1, (1)American Institutes for Research, (2)University of Chicago

Enrollment in eighth-grade algebra doubled from the 1990s to 2012 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013) as research demonstrated that Algebra I operates as a “gateway” to advanced mathematics courses in high school (Adelman, 2006), and that students who succeed in Algebra I in middle school have more success in mathematics throughout high school. However, prior work was heavily prone to selection bias, focusing on high-performing students. Other work examines outcomes of taking eighth-grade algebra for students with different levels of readiness and highlights negative effects for average or lower performing students (e.g., reduced test scores [Loveless, 2008], decreased likelihood of passing geometry by Grade 11 and Algebra II by Grade 12 [Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2013]). However, these studies have important limitations; they focus on district(s) within one state and/or only examine a limited range of outcomes.

To address this gap, we conducted an exploration study to examine if and how outcomes associated with taking eighth-grade algebra differ for students with different levels of prior readiness in two large, heterogeneous districts. In this paper, we focus on high school coursetaking, high school math achievement and on-time graduation as our primary outcomes.

Using historical data from two large, diverse districts—Elk Grove Unified School District (Elk Grove, CA) and Chicago Public Schools (Chicago, IL)—we examine outcomes for more than 120,000 students. All EGUSD middle schools offered eighth-grade algebra while the course was only offered in approximately one-third of CPS middle schools. Analyses of EGUSD data employ an inverse propensity weighting design, where students within the district not enrolled in eighth-grade algebra are weighted to more closely resemble students enrolled in eighth-grade algebra. Analyses of CPS data employ a two-stage approach. In the first stage, schools that offered eighth-grade algebra are propensity-matched with schools that did not offer the course using 1:1 matching. In the second stage, we estimated a selection model for propensity to enroll in the course in schools where it was offered, and use this model to generate propensity scores for students in matched-schools where the course was not offered. Students enrolled in schools that did not offer the course were then weighted to resemble students that enrolled in the course where it was offered. We categorized students into five readiness groups based on students’ seventh-grade math test scores and grades and then tested the interaction between enrollment in the course and student readiness group.

Findings show that enrollment in eighth-grade algebra resulted in no negative outcomes for students in any readiness group. Additionally, students in both districts who took algebra in eighth grade were more likely to complete advanced math course sequences in high school (including completing Calculus) and some groups of students were more likely to graduate on time. Students who took eighth-grade algebra also were consistently more likely to earn higher scores on high school mathematics assessments. Across outcomes, effects were larger for higher-performing students but average and/or lower-performing students also experienced positive outcomes.