Panel Paper: Targeted Interventions in High School: Preparing Students for College

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Zeyu Xu1, Benjamin Backes1, Amanda Oliveira1 and Dan Goldhaber2, (1)American Institutes for Research, (2)University of Washington

College readiness for all students is one of the top priorities of K-12 education in this country. Prior research demonstrates that only 25 percent of high school students are fully college ready when they graduate from high school, and that 20 percent of college freshmen are not ready for college-level courses. College remediation is costly and largely ineffective. A number of states, therefore, have shifted their focus to addressing the college readiness gap before college matriculation.

The goal of this paper is to evaluate the efficacy of one such effort—Kentucky’s Targeted Intervention (TI) program —and explore the conditions under which the program may help close the college readiness gap. TI assesses students’ college readiness using a series of standardized tests in Grades 8, 10, and 11. Students scoring below benchmarks in math, English, or reading are required by state law to receive supplemental support, often in the form of transition courses that can be either standalone courses or integrated into regular classes. TI is designed to align secondary education standards with postsecondary expectations, focus on early intervention, and emphasize student support.

Our study focuses on the impact of 12th grade TI on student outcomes such as college enrollment, readiness to take and succeed in introductory level college courses, persistence, and credential attainment. Because TI participation is determined by pre-set test score thresholds on the ACT in each subject, mandatory for all 11th grade students, we use regression discontinuity (RD) to estimate the TI impact for students scoring just below the cut scores.

Our data come from student-level administrative records that include high school test scores, student background characteristics, transcript data from both high school and postsecondary institutions, and intervention records that document intervention type, content area, curriculum, and intensity. The study sample consists of the universe of 11th grade students in 2014 and 2015, who are followed until the second year in college.

Having examined and ruled out potential threats to the internal validity of RD, we find that TI has a large, positive impact on the passing rate of introductory college math courses (particularly College Algebra courses) during the freshman year. The positive effect is concentrated among students attending 4-year universities and it is robust to model specifications and bandwidth choices. The effect remains statistically significant even when we use the most conservative confidence intervals. No effect is detected among students attending 2-year colleges.

We will also examine TI’s impact on persistence in the first two years of college, which, along with passing introductory gatekeeper courses, are important predictors of credential completion. Additionally, we will explore the variation of TI impact by treatment dosage, student characteristics, and school settings. These findings will shed light on the conditions under which TI may have the largest impact. While results are in progress, they will be ready for presentation at the conference.

Full Paper: