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IES Grant

Title: Dual-Credit Courses and the Road to College: Experimental Evidence from Tennessee
Center: NCER Year: 2014
Principal Investigator: Dynarski, Susan Awardee: University of Michigan
Program: Evaluation of State and Local Education Programs and Policies      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/01/2014-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $2,075,729
Type: Efficacy Award Number: R305H140028

Co-Principal Investigators: Steven Hemelt (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and Nathaniel Schwartz (Tennessee Department of Education)

Purpose: Curricular alignment between high school and college may better prepare students by exposing them to the expectations, skills, and knowledge necessary to succeed in college. Dual-credit courses are courses taken in high school that can provide college credit. These courses are designed to more closely align high school and college curricula by providing college-level instruction within the familiar context of high school. This project will evaluate the impact of Tennessee’s dual credit course for Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry on students’ high school and college outcomes.

Project Activities: Researchers will evaluate a dual credit Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course at 103 high schools that were randomly assigned to providing either the dual credit course or their own historically-offered such course. Researchers will compare students at the treatment and control schools in 11th or 12th grade in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years who are eligible to take the course on both high school and postsecondary outcomes.

Products: The products of this project will be evidence of the efficacy of a dual credit Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course. The evidence will be directly provided to the Tennessee Department of Education through the participation of department personnel on the project. The project will prepare briefs to provide early findings on which students are enrolling and early impacts. A conference will be held in the fifth year to present final results and bring together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers interested in dual-credit initiatives. Researchers will present results to the research community through presentations and peer-reviewed publications.


Setting: This project will take place in Tennessee (TN) high schools.

Sample: Tennessee’s Department of Education solicited the state’s 318 high schools commitment to a study of a dual credit college-level algebra course. 103 schools volunteered to take part and had the requisite baseline data. The schools were block randomized within their geographic region (east, west, and central) and fifty-three were assigned to the treatment group and fifty to the control group.

Intervention: Tennessee’s Office of Postsecondary Coordination and Alignment (within the TN Department of Education) assembled committees of high school and college instructors to draft standards that would align high-school courses with college expectations. One of these committees developed the college-algebra standards and standardized test that will be used in the dual credit Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course to be offered in the treatment schools. Teachers at treatment schools will be trained on these standards and assisted in aligning their courses with them. Students in the 11th and 12th grades with the required prerequisites can take the new dual-credit course in their high school for free. Enrolled students will take a centrally graded, standardized, computer-based, end-of-course exam for free. A passing score will count for course credit at any public college in Tennessee.

Research Design and Methods: A randomized experiment is used based on the random assignment of 103 schools to the treatment condition, under which the dual credit Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course will be offered, or the control condition, under which the school’s traditional Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course will be offered. Researchers will compare students eligible to take the treatment or control courses while in 11th or 12th grade in school years 2013-14 and 2014-15 on their high school and postsecondary outcomes.

Control Condition: The control group includes approximately 50 schools that will continue to offer their regular Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course. The course content and assessments will not be standardized and their teachers will not be trained in the standardized content. The students in the control schools will not be allowed to take the centrally administered, end-of-course exam or receive college credit for the course.

Key Measures: High school outcomes include high school graduation, standardized test scores, and subsequent course-taking (the latter two only for students who take the course before their last year of high school). Postsecondary outcomes include college enrollment, type of college (2-year vs. 4-year, public vs. private), semesters enrolled (persistence), hours of remedial coursework, choice of major, credits, and GPA. All these outcomes will be obtained for students attending public postsecondary institutions in TN while only the first three outcomes will be gathered for students attending private institutions in TN or out-of-state institutions. Implementation measures will be drawn from (1) a survey of treatment teachers in the second cohort regarding their summer training, (2) a survey of treatment and control teachers regarding course content (textbook and chapter use) and student prerequisites and (3) collection of additional classroom artifacts (e.g., midterm exams).

Data Analytic Strategy: Multivariate regression will be used for intent to treat analysis, treatment on the treated analysis, and analyses on the heterogeneity of impacts among different subgroups (e.g., school region and urbanicity; student baseline achievement, race/ethnicity, free and reduced-price lunch status). Researchers will also analyze implementation measures to check for standardization of treatment, comparison of the intervention in treatment and control schools, and mediator analyses regarding differential content and differential classroom composition.