Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Doubling Up? The Impact of Remedial Algebra on Students' Long-Run Outcomes
Center: NCER Year: 2012
Principal Investigator: Goodman, Joshua Awardee: Harvard University
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 1 year (7/1/2012-6/30/2013) Award Amount: $291,164
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A120466

Purpose: Over the past twenty years, there has been a movement across the nation for districts to implement "Algebra-for-all" policies in which 9th (or even 8th) grade students are required to take introductory algebra regardless of whether the students are academically prepared. School districts, especially those with high concentration of 9th grade students who lack foundational math skills, are concerned that early failure in algebra may lead to a series of negative consequences for struggling students' future academic achievement and ability to graduate from high school. One emerging remediation strategy is "double-dose" algebra, a scheduling mechanism in which students in need of math remediation are required to take two periods of algebra per day instead of one.

Since 2003, a large urban school district in Illinois has implemented a version of double-dose algebra for students entering high school with math test scores below the national average. The underlying theory is that increasing algebra instructional time for these students will lead to improved student outcomes. An earlier IES study found that the district's double-dose algebra policy had positive and substantial impacts on 9th and 10th grade outcomes such as G.P.A, course failure rates, and standardized test scores. In this follow-up study, researchers will examine the impact of the double-dose algebra policy on long-term outcomes such as advanced math coursework and performance, ACT scores, high school graduation rates and college enrollment.

Project Activities: Researchers will use longitudinal transcript and student outcome data from the urban school system to track students from 8th grade through college enrollment. With these data, researchers will estimate the effects of double-dose algebra on student outcomes such as test scores, grades, coursework, graduation rates, and college enrollment. Researchers will estimate whether there are different effects of having a double-algebra period for students from different racial/ethnic groups or socioeconomic backgrounds. Finally, the team will determine to what extent the impacts of the double-dose algebra policy can be attributed to additional instructional time, different peer groups, or other factors.

Products: The products of this project will be evidence of the long-term efficacy of a 9th grade double-dose algebra policy for high school students, and peer reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The schools are located in a large urban school district in Illinois.

Sample: The study population includes all high school students who entered the district as freshmen from the 2000–01 school year through the 2005–06 school year. Demographically, the school district is about 53 percent African-American, 34 percent Latino, 9 percent white and 4 percent Asian. Around 85 percent of district students are from low-income families.

Intervention: Under this district's double-dose algebra policy, students scoring below the national median on their 8th grade state math exam were required to take two periods of algebra per day during the ninth grade. Students placed into these remedial classes therefore received substantially more instruction time in algebra. The policy also called for increased tracking by ability.

Research Design and Methods: The data are longitudinal at the level of district, school, and student, and the design includes repeated observations for individual students nested within cohorts of students moving through the school system across time. Researchers will analyze data for three cohorts of 9th students who began high school before the policy was implemented and three cohorts of 9th graders who began high school after the policy was implemented. Receipt of the treatment, double-dose algebra, is determined by the year that students entered high school and the students' scores on their 8th grade math exam. Because multiple cohorts of data exist, the researchers can examine how the relationship between algebra "dosage" and later outcomes changes before and after the introduction of the new double-dose algebra policy. Multiple analytic methods will be used, including difference-and-difference, regression-discontinuity, and instrumental-variable analyses, to overcome the flaws in each individual approach and to confirm the conclusions reached from each method.

Control Condition: For the difference-in-difference analyses, 9th grade students who scored above the cutoff on their 8th grade statewide math exam (high scoring students) will serve as the control for students whose 8th grade math exam scores led to their being assigned to double-dose algebra (low scoring students). For the regression discontinuity design, students who scored just above the cut-off for assignment to double-dose algebra will serve as the control condition for students who scored just below the cut-off.

Key Measures: Measures include student-level demographic and academic status variables, student scores on the state 8th grade math exam, high school transcript data including courses taken and course grades, standardized scores on the American College Testing Assessment and the Prairie State Examination. Attendance, graduation and dropout rates, and college enrollment will also be analyzed.

Data Analytic Strategy: Each student cohort will be followed from 9th grade and will be observed through all high school grades until they graduate, drop out, or transfer out of the school district. Researchers will use 1) a differences-in-differences approaches to compare changes in outcomes for low- and high-scoring students after the double-dose policy was implemented and 2) a regression discontinuity approach to compare outcomes for students just above and below the cutoff for assignment to the double-dose algebra courses. Researchers will estimate the average impact of the policy on students, regardless of whether the students were actually remediated (intent-to-treat) and will use the cut-off rule as an instrumental variable in order to yield estimates of the impact on students who were remediated as a result of the policy (treatment-on-the-treated).


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Cortes, K., and Goodman, J. (2014). Ability-Tracking, Instructional Time, and Better Pedagogy: The Effect of Double-Dose Algebra on Student Achievement. American Economic Review, 104 (5): 400–405.

Cortes, K., Goodman, J., and Nomi, T. (2015). Intensive Math Instruction and Educational Attainment: Long-Run Impacts of Double-Dose Algebra. Journal of Human Resources, 50 : 108–158.

Cortes, K., Nomi, T., and Goodman, J. (2013). A Double-Dose of Algebra: Intensive Math Instruction has Long-Term Benefits. Education Next, 13 (1): 70–76.