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IES Grant

Title: An Experimental Evaluation of Accelerated Pathways through Developmental Education—A RAND-THECB Partnership
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Miller, Trey Awardee: RAND Corporation
Program: Evaluation of State and Local Education Programs and Policies      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (09/01/2015-08/31/2020) Award Amount: $4,500,000
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305H150094

Name of Partners: RAND Corporation and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

Purpose: The partnership will assess whether mainstreaming incoming college students with marginal academic skills into credit-bearing courses produces higher rates of college success than requiring these students to complete a developmental (remedial) education sequence prior to enrolling in credit-bearing courses. This evaluation responds to prior research evidence showing that many students required to complete developmental course sequences perform no better than similar students who do not take developmental courses, and may actually be less likely to complete credit-bearing courses and degrees. The partnership will focus on students at the margin of college readiness, who score somewhat below the college-ready cutoff score on the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA), Texas' developmental education placement exam. By implementing a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study design, the partnership will determine whether mainstreaming is causally related to higher rates of course and degree completion for students at the margin of college readiness.

Project Activities: RAND and THECB will collaborate with postsecondary institutions across Texas as they implement the RCT. During the first six months of the project, researchers will visit administrators and instructors in each institution to assess their current practices for placing students into developmental education, as well as the current set of course sequences and supports available to students in need of developmental education. During the second year of the project (2016-17), the partnership will carry out a randomized trial of mainstreaming in nine Texas postsecondary institutions. Researchers will follow students for up to three years from randomization, to assess short- and long-term outcomes associated with mainstreaming. After the treatment year, and during later stages of the project, the partnership will advise postsecondary institutions and state policymakers regarding the benefits and costs of mainstreaming, and the conditions under which it is most helpful for students.

Products: The partners will produce evidence regarding the efficacy of mainstreaming as a strategy for improving progression through postsecondary education, for students who enter college at the margin of college readiness. The partnership will produce guidance on mainstreaming for Texas postsecondary institutions not included in the study, and also for state policymakers. Researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place at 9 postsecondary institutions located across Texas. Seven of the institutions are 2-year institutions, and 2 are 4-year institutions. Six of the institutions include more than one campus.

Sample: Study participants will include about 2,325 incoming college students during the 2016-17 school year. All students in the sample will be first-time undergraduate students who score below the college readiness threshold on the TSIA placement exam and whose scores are within approximately 0.2 standard deviations of the TSIA's college-readiness threshold. Institutions in the sample serve a student population that is, on average, 46 percent Hispanic, 18 percent African American, and 25 percent White or Asian.

Intervention: A 2012 change to Texas state law required postsecondary institutions to develop "accelerated pathways" through developmental education. This project evaluates a specific educational practice known as "mainstreaming" in which students who score close to (but below) the TSIA college-readiness threshold are placed directly into college-level English courses. Additional supports for such students vary across institutions, and include non-credit-bearing study skills courses, concurrent developmental education courses requiring less than 3 credit hours of participation per semester, and increased counseling.

Research Design and Methods: The partnership will employ a randomized trial to assess whether mainstreaming can significantly increase the probability of marginally-college-ready students completing a college-level English course, succeeding in subsequent credit-bearing courses, and completing a degree. During the orientation process, when students are enrolling for courses, researchers will identify students eligible for the mainstreaming intervention, based on performance on the TSIA and information provided to them by the institutions. This group of students will be randomly divided into the treatment and control conditions. Treatment group students will be routed to a college-level English course along with any additional supports provided to mainstreamed students at their institution. Control group students will be assigned to non-college level English courses. Treatment and control group students will be followed for up to three years following random assignment. Comparisons of their outcomes will be used to draw inferences about the impact of the mainstreaming intervention.

Control Condition: The project team will assign control group members to their institution's standard course placement for students with their placement score and other relevant attributes.

Key Measures: Placement measures will include scores on the TSIA and the TSIA diagnostic profile. The group eligible for random assignment will be identified by the institutions based on these measures, and these measures will also be used as covariates in the statistical analyses. Researchers will draw on THECB administrative data to measure student participation in different course options: a) enrollment in a college-level course; b) enrollment in a college-level course combined with low-touch support (e.g. a non-course-based option or a developmental course that is less than 3 credit hours per semester); c) co-enrollment in a college-level course and a full-length developmental course; and d) enrollment in the highest level of developmental education. Key "intermediate" outcomes will include time elapsed before attempting a first college-level course, college-level credits completed in the first semester, passing a college-level course in the remediated subject, and enrollment in a semester following random assignment. Long term-outcomes will include retention in semesters after the one-year study period, total college credits accumulated, and degree completion or transfer. Other covariates to be used in the statistical analyses include demographic characteristics such as gender, age, and ethnicity.

Data Analytic Strategy: To measure the treatment impact, researchers will estimate a linear regression model including the treatment indicator and a vector of baseline covariates that will be used to establish baseline equivalency. Researchers will include the baseline covariates to improve the precision of the treatment effect estimates.

Related IES Projects: Designing a RCT Experiment to Test the Impact of Innovative Interventions and Policies for Postsecondary Developmental Education: A RAND—TX Higher Education Coordinating Board Research Partnership (R305H130026) and Continuous Improvement Research to Support the Implementation of a Statewide Reform to Postsecondary Developmental Education—A RAND-THECB Research Partnership (R305H150069)