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IES Grant

Title: Test-Based Acceleration in Middle School Math: Impacts on College Entry and STEM Major Choice for High-achieving Students and Under-represented Groups
Center: NCER Year: 2019
Principal Investigator: Card, David Awardee: National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Program: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2019 06/30/2022) Award Amount: $601,499
Type: Efficacy Award Number: R305A190175

Co-Principal Investigator: Giuliano, Laura

Purpose: The purpose of the study is to evaluate an accelerated middle school math curriculum, Great Explorations in Mathematics (GEM). The GEM program places eligible students in Pre-Algebra in 6th grade, Algebra I in 7th grade and Geometry in 8th grade, accelerating students by two years relative to the standard curriculum. The project aims to understand the potential of early academic tracking in promoting and sustaining achievement, especially among underserved students with high math ability, and to examine the effects of an accelerated math track in middle school for students who do and do not participate in the accelerated math track.

Project Activities: The researchers will conduct a retrospective analysis of a test-based math acceleration program for high-achieving students, Great Explorations in Mathematics (GEM).

Products: Researchers will demonstrate the efficacy of the GEM program, a cost analysis of the intervention, and a restricted-use data set on policies and procedures related to middle school math acceleration, along with data codebook and analytic program files. The research team will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study includes two large school urban districts in Florida.

Sample: The two school districts are demographically similar with a diverse student population of about one-third black and one-third Hispanic students. About half of all students receive free/reduced price lunches in elementary grades. The study will target grade 6 students enrolled between 2003 and 2010.

Intervention: Middle school mathematics classes are typically tracked into two levels, advanced and regular, with students in the advanced track having the option to take Algebra I in grade 8. The GEM curriculum, however, collapses the three years of pre-algebra under the standard curriculum into a single year, with Algebra I Honors offered in seventh grade and Geometry Honors offered in eighth grade. Students who pass the Algebra and Geometry courses, and the corresponding statewide end of course exams, earn two high school credits and enter high school prepared to take Algebra II. To qualify for GEM, students must score above the 80th percentile of the math distribution on the Florida statewide achievement test. To stay in the program in subsequent years, students must also earn at least a B grade. In contrast, students who miss the cutoff for enrolling in GEM in grade 6 can be accelerated by at most one grade level (to Algebra I in eighth grade).

Research Design and Methods: To conduct the evaluation, the researchers will combine administrative data for individual students from the school district and data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC).The research team will use regression discontinuity methods to evaluate the impact of GEM participation of grade 6 students between 2003 and 2013 on math course selection and grades in high school, on participation and scores in Advanced Placement courses and college entry tests, on college entry and quality, degree attainment, and probability of obtaining a STEM degree.

The researchers will also conduct a between-district analysis on the six cohort of students who entered grade 6 between 2004 and 2009. The research team will compare the GEM school district to a similar school district where there was no accelerated mathematics program for middle school students prior to 2010.

As a check on the validity of the between-district analysis, the researchers will also perform a within-district, within-school analysis using only data from the non-GEM comparison school district. In 2010, the comparison school district implemented Accelerated Mathematics Program (AMP) that was similar to the GEM program. The researchers will compare outcomes of students in the four cohorts that entered Grade 6 after 2010, when the comparison school introduced AMP, to those of similar students enrolled in the same schools in the six years before the program was implemented.

Control Condition: Asynthetic control group will be created by matching students in the GEM school district to students enrolled in a similar, comparison district in Florida on their scores in grades 3-5.

Key Measures: Key student outcomes include completing high school calculus with an A or B grade and taking Advanced Placement courses. Long-term student outcomes after high school include entry into a 4-year college, postsecondary degree completion, and attainment of a STEM degree.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will conduct non-parametric regression discontinuity approaches with testing for manipulation and differential attrition. The research team will also use non-parametric matched synthetic control groups to equate pre-trends in math scores for the three years prior to GEM implementation.

Cost Analysis: The GEM program requires that teachers participate in district-offered training sessions. The researchers will assess the training required and its cost. Researchers will also interview middle school teachers to estimate the extra cost (if any) of GEM's training requirements and will assess the implied cost saving (if any) to GEM students for end-of-course exams and courses.

Related IES Projects: Gifted Education Program Participation and Program Impacts (R305E110019)