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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: Hemelt, Steven; Schwartz, Nathaniel

Partnership Institutions: University of Michigan, Tennessee Department of Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Purpose: This project team evaluated the impact of Tennessee's dual credit course for Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry on students' high school and college outcomes. Dual-credit courses are courses taken in high school that can provide college credit. These courses are designed to align high school and college curricula by providing college-level instruction within the familiar context of high school. 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.

Project Activities: The University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) evaluated the impact of a dual credit high school course in Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry. The team used an experimental design in which 53 treatment high schools were randomly assigned to providing a standardized version of this course for which students could earn college credit at no cost and 50 control schools were assigned to providing their own versions of this course for which students could not earn college credit. The project compared student-level high-school and postsecondary outcomes between treatment and control students for two cohorts of students (11th and 12th graders in school years 2013–14 and 2014–15). At the request of TDOE, the project also carried out a descriptive study of Tennessee dual credit courses and the students taking them and a study exploring the effects of passing the end-of-course exam necessary to secure college credit for a dual credit course.

In addition to the research activities, the project also carried out various partnership activities, including the following.

  • TDOE was actively involved in the research, setting its direction, and disseminating the findings.
  • The project team briefed the Tennessee State Board of Education, Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee Board of Regents, Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities, the University of Tennessee, and other offices within TDOE.
  • The project team held a conference on Early Postsecondary Opportunities which addressed Dual Credit, Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, and CTE Concentrations and Industry Certifications for school districts across the state as well as TDOE personnel.

Key Outcomes:

  • Researchers found that the dual-credit advanced algebra course altered students' subsequent high school math course-taking, reducing enrollment in remedial math and boosting enrollment in Precalculus and Advanced Placement math courses (Hemelt, Schwartz, and Dynarski, 2020). They did not detect an effect of the dual-credit math course on overall rates of college enrollment. However, the course induced some students to choose 4-year universities instead of 2-year colleges, particularly for those in the middle of the math achievement distribution and those first exposed to the opportunity to take the course in 11th rather than 12th grade. Researchers saw limited evidence of improvements in early math performance during college.
  • The descriptive study examined the spread of dual-credit courses across schools and patterns of participation among students (Hemelt & Swiderski, 2020). Researchers found little evidence that SDC courses competed with other early postsecondary opportunities, such as Advanced Placement courses. SDC courses appeared less frequently in small relative to large schools, doing little to ameliorate placed-based gaps in early postsecondary opportunities. However, within SDC-offering schools, students with a wide range of prior achievement levels and demographic backgrounds participated in these courses, especially courses on career and technical (CTE) education topics. The paper identified the important roles end-of-course exam pass rates, teacher capacity, and standards alignment will play in making policy regarding future dual-credit opportunities.

Structured Abstract

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

Sample: Tennessee's Department of Education (TDOE) invited high schools across the state to participate in a study of a dual-credit college-level algebra course. One hundred and three 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 53 were assigned to the treatment group and 50 to the control group.

Intervention: Tennessee's Office of Postsecondary Coordination and Alignment (within the TDOE) 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 for the dual-credit Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course offered treatment schools. Teachers at treatment schools were trained on these standards and assisted in aligning their courses with them. Students with the required prerequisites could take the new dual-credit course in their high school for free. Enrolled students took a centrally graded, standardized, computer-based, end-of-course exam for free. A passing score counts for course credit at any public college in Tennessee.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers used a randomized experiment based on the random assignment of 103 schools to the treatment condition, under which the dual-credit Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course was offered, or the control condition, under which the school's traditional Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course was offered. Researchers compared eligible students in treatment and control schools in school years 2013–14 and 2014–15 on their high school and postsecondary outcomes.

Control Condition: The control group included 50 schools that offered their regular Advanced Algebra/Trigonometry course. The course content and assessments were not standardized and their teachers were not trained in the standardized content. The students in the control schools were not permitted to take the centrally administered, end-of-course exam nor receive college credit for the course.

Key Measures: High school outcomes included 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 included college enrollment, type of college (2-year vs. 4-year, public vs. private), credits attempted and earned, and GPA. A survey of treatment and control teachers provided information on implementation, including measures of course content (e.g., textbooks, concept sequencing, and assignments).

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers used multivariate regression for intent-to-treat analysis, treatment-on-the-treated analysis, and analyses of the heterogeneity of impacts among different policy-relevant subgroups (e.g., grade level, race and ethnicity). Researchers also characterized the nature of implementation across schools.

Publications and Products

Additional online resources and information:

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Select Publications:

Hemelt, S.W., Schwartz, N.L., & Dynarski, S.M. (2020), Dual-Credit Courses and the. Road to College: Experimental Evidence from Tennessee. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 39(3), 686–719.

Ross, N. M., & Hemelt, S. W. (2023). Banking on dual credit: Broadening opportunities to earn college credit in high school and the transition to college. Educational Researcher,