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IES Grant

Title: Ready or Not? California's Early Assessment Program and the Transition to College
Center: NCER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: Kurlaender, Michal Awardee: University of California, Davis
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,831,608
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A100971

Co-Principal Investigators: Eric Grodsky and Jessica Howell

Purpose: Despite the pressing need to ensure that more students obtain a postsecondary degree, little is known about the aspects of specific program components that lead to college readiness and degree completion. This study investigates the efficacy of a fully-developed state program intended to better support the transition from high school to postsecondary schooling by reducing the need for remedial courses in college— California's Early Assessment Program (EAP). Two potential mechanisms by which EAP may work will be explored: sorting, in which EAP influences students' decisions about whether or not to apply to a California State University campus; and course taking, in which EAP may affect the courses students choose to take during their senior year of high school. The impact of EAP for students from varying backgrounds and school contexts will also be explored.

Project Activities: Using data obtained from California State University (CSU) and the California Department of Education, researchers will study student participation in EAP, application to CSU, and high school and college course-taking.

Products: The products of this project will be published reports describing the impact of the Early Assessment Program on application to the California State University, the need for remedial course-taking once enrolled, and the possible mechanisms through which EAP affects students from different backgrounds.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The evaluation will take place in California public high schools and the 23 campuses of the California State University (CSU).

Population: The study participants will include the 3.6 million high school juniors in California public schools from the 2001—2008 school years. Research questions concerning coursework in the first year of college include an analytic sample of all first-time freshmen applicants to CSU between 2003 and 2010. A subset of students—approximately 18,000—will be selected for analyses that use high school transcripts.

Intervention: The Early Assessment Program is an academic preparation program intended to bridge the gap between outcomes in English and mathematics as measured by the California Standards Tests and the requirements and expectations of postsecondary education at the California State University. The primary component of the program is an assessment of English and math skills among California eleventh graders. The basic nature of the intervention is to augment the mandatory California Standards Tests in eleventh grade English and mathematics with a voluntary set of 15 additional questions. EAP scores are derived from these 15 items in addition to a subset of items on the CST. Based on their EAP scores, students receive a letter in the summer before their senior year with information about whether or not they are ready to do college-level work. If their score exceeds an upper threshold, they are exempted from remedial coursework and the CSU placement exam. If their score falls below a lower threshold, they are considered non-exempt from the remediation placement exams. Students who are not exempt are advised about what courses to take in their senior year and directed to additional resources to improve their readiness for CSU.

Research Design and Methods: Data will be obtained from the California Department of Education, California State University, and high school transcripts to examine individual-level data in high school through college. By exploiting the timing of the policy's introduction, as well as a wealth of administrative data, quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of EAP on students in California will be based on an interrupted time-series model. The mechanisms through which EAP may affect the postsecondary careers of California youth will be studied using a regression discontinuity design comparing the application behavior and course-taking patterns of students just above and below the EAP exemption cutoffs.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Student outcome measures include course taking in the senior year of high school, an application to CSU, and course taking in college. Student characteristics include race/ethnicity, gender, parental education, and prior academic achievement (high school GPA and standardized test scores). School-level characteristics include high school size, demographic composition, academic performance indicators, and EAP participation rates.

Data Analytic Strategy: The probability of needing remediation at CSU will be studied using data from students, including both those who remain in the study and those who drop out, applying an interrupted time-series approach that compares remediation rates for five cohorts of students eligible to participate in EAP after its inception in 2003 with similar students in the two years prior to EAP. Treatment on the treated analyses will compare remediation rates for students who do and do not complete EAP among all students eligible for the assessment. To explore whether students respond differently to EAP, interaction terms will be included to represent individual level background characteristics. A regression discontinuity approach will be used to explore the mechanisms through which EAP may operate by comparing students at either side of the cut-score on whether they applied to CSU, and their subsequent placement into remedial classes. The degree to which EAP results in changes in senior year course taking will be examined through an analysis of senior year course-taking and success in math and science courses following the receipt of the EAP score.

Products and Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Howell, J., Kurlaender, M., and Grodsky, E. (2010). Postsecondary Preparation and Remediation: Examining the Effect of the Early Assessment Program at California State University. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 29(4): 726–748.

Jackson, J., and Kurlaender, M. (2014). College Readiness and College Completion at Broad Access Four-Year Institutions. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(8): 947–971.

Kurlaender, M. (2014). Assessing the Promise of California's Early Assessment Program for Community Colleges. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 655(1): 36–55.

Kurlaender, M., and Larsen, M. (2013). K–12 and Postsecondary Alignment: Racial/Ethnic Differences in Freshmen Course-Taking and Performance at California's Community Colleges. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21(16): 1–24.