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IES Grant

Title: Assessing the Efficacy of Online Credit Recovery in Algebra I for At-Risk Ninth Graders
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Heppen, Jessica Awardee: American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Program: Education Policy, Finance, and Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $3,084,374
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A110149

Co-Principal Investigators: Elaine Allensworth (Consortium on Chicago School Research), Kirk Walters and Anja Kurki (American Institutes for Research)

Purpose: Failing Algebra I in the first year of high school significantly decreases a student's likelihood of graduating. Getting students back on track is a high priority, yet little rigorous evidence exists about credit recovery options. This study will test the efficacy of offering an online Algebra I course in the summer after 9th grade for first time 9th graders who failed the second semester of Algebra I.

Project Activities: The project will carry out several studies to estimate the impact of an online summer credit recovery course for first time 9th graders who fail the second semester of Algebra I. The first study will compare the impacts of the online course to a traditional in-class summer course through an experiment in which such 9th graders will be randomly assigned to one of the two summer courses within 20 high schools with high rates of Algebra 1 failure. These high schools are all within the Chicago Public Schools system (CPS). A second study will examine whether schools offering the online Algebra 1 course show improved student academic outcomes versus schools that do not. This study will include two comparisons: (1) 9th grade cohorts within the 20 high schools before and after the online summer course was available; and (2) 9th grade cohorts in schools offering the online summer course versus schools where students do not have access to such an online course. A third study will compare how students who succeed in their summer credit recovery course (both online and in-class versions) do versus 9th grade students who passed Algebra I.

Products: Products include evidence of the efficacy of an online Algebra I course for credit recovery published in peer reviewed journals.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The setting is the Chicago Public Schools system with a focus on high schools with freshman Algebra I failure rates of 20% or higher.

Population: The population is first-time CPS high school freshman who fail the second semester of Algebra I within high schools with freshman Algebra I failure rates of 20% or higher. The high school must also be lacking in online summer credit recovery programs (approximately 60 high schools meet this criteria). The sample for the experimental study comparing the online course to the in-class course will include approximately 800 students drawn from the 20 high schools in two cohorts who will take one of the summer credit recovery courses either in 2011 or 2012. The sample for the comparison of schools with and without an online summer course will include 2400 students in up to 60 high schools.

Intervention: The intervention is an online Algebra I course used for credit recovery during the summer after 9th grade. The course is provided by Aventa and runs 4 hours per day, 5 days per week, 4 weeks per session. The course will run for a total of 80 hours and provides one-half credit. It includes both an online teacher and a site-based mentor who help personalize instruction for each student. Students take the course together in a computer lab but work at their own pace on topics they need to learn. The course allows them to demonstrate knowledge of the topics they already have learned. Students can have access to the course when off-site, but graded assessments will be completed in the lab with the mentor acting as proctor.

Control Condition: The control condition is a standard in-class Algebra I course offered for credit recovery during the summer after 9th grade. The course will use the typical curriculum for the district, run for the same 80 hours as the online course, and be taught by a licensed CPS mathematics teacher.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will use a student-level random assignment design to test the impact of a summer online Algebra I versus the in-class Algebra I course for credit recovery. Of the 60 CPS high schools with freshman Algebra I failure rates of 20% or higher and lacking an online Algebra I recovery course, 20 will be randomly selected and invited to join the study (for those that don't join replacements will be randomly selected from the remaining pool of 40 schools). Within the 20 high schools, first-time freshmen who failed second semester Algebra I in two cohorts will be randomly assigned to take the online or in-class course for credit recovery in the summers of 2011 and 2012. This study will also include an examination of the relationship between the implementation of the online course, especially the level of support provided by the mentors and online teachers, and student success in the course.

A cohort comparison will be used to examine differences between 9th grade cohorts of freshman who failed Algebra I in schools that had the online course and those that did not. Within the 20 schools of the experimental study, the two cohorts that had access to the online course will be compared to the three preceding cohorts that did not. This comparison will be expanded to the remaining pool of up to 40 schools (excepting those that declined to take part in the first study) with similar freshman failure rates allowing for an examination of changes across cohorts from the pre- to post-treatment years in the treatment schools versus the same changes for the same cohorts in matched control schools (a difference-in-difference estimate).

Key Measures: Short-term outcomes include end-of-course algebra assessment scores and grades in the summer course, scores on the algebra portion of the PLAN exam (a per-ACT assessment taken by CPS students in the fall of 10th grade) and 10th grade credit attainment in mathematics and science. Longer term outcomes include grades and credits in subsequent mathematics and science courses, 11th grade ACT scores, drop-out status in each subsequent year, and 4-year graduation status of Cohort 1 students.

Data Analytic Strategy: The data will be analyzed using a series of hierarchical linear models for continuous outcomes (e.g., ACT scores), hierarchical generalized linear models for binary outcomes, and discrete-time survival analysis of dropout outcomes. A mediation analyses will be carried out to examine variation in the impact of online Algebra I by school and student level implementation factors.